Thursday, February 23, 2012

David Nelson and The New Delhi River Band, Summer 1966 (David Nelson I)

The earliest known flyer for a New Delhi River Band performance, at Losers South in San Jose, CA, in August of 1966
The New Delhi River Band were founded in Palo Alto, CA in the Summer of 1966. They were one of the first psychedelic blues bands formed in the South Bay--though of course not the very first--, and they had a significant following in the South Bay underground. The group is usually remembered today, if at all, for being the first rock band for future New Riders of The Purple Sage David Nelson and Dave Torbert. Since the band never released any recordings, however, and the venues where they thrived are lost in the mists of time, the New Delhi River Band is just a ghost.

Despite substantial efforts by the group in 1967, The New Delhi River Band never succeeded outside of their South Bay turf, and the members moved on to other pursuits. My research seems to suggest, however, that they were an interesting and popular band in the little universe of the South Bay underground in 1966 and 1967, and their story makes a great case study on how regional bands help shape scenes while getting left behind themselves—the story of The New Delhi River Band stands for the tale of every cool local long haired band in 1966 and 1967 who never got big past the County Line, living on as a fond, hazy memory of their fans.

David Nelson was one of Jerry Garcia's best friends, and Nelson's career presents an interesting counterpoints to Garcia's. The Grateful Dead were the South Bay's first psychedelic blues band, of course, and the New Delhi River Band's ups and downs shed light on different ways in which the Dead were both fortunate and special. By the time Nelson and Garcia reconnected in 1969 with the New Riders of The Purple Sage, Nelson had had his own odyssey, far less legendary than Garcia's but fascinating nonetheless. This post will be part of a series on the hitherto lost history of the New Delhi River Band.

In a 21st century interview for RD Records, drummer Chris Herold recalled
NDRB was a really fine band. Some very fond memories of the formative time. We were one of the first white blues bands, probably THE first in the Bay Area. We were Butterfield Blues Band fans and it showed in our music. We also drew from all the old greats Robert Johnson, Willie Dixon, Lightnin' Hopkins, Muddy Waters . . . the list goes on. The band members were: Sweet John Tomasi (vocals and harmonica), Peter Sultzbach (lead guitar), David Nelson (rhythm guitar), Dave Torbert (bass) and me [Chris Herold] on drums.”
David Nelson played a critical role in Jerry Garcia's career, both before the Grateful Dead and during their existence. After the New Delhi River Band ended in early 1968, Nelson re-appeared in Garcia's universe at the end of 1968, participating in the Aoxomoxoa sessions (although probably not appearing on the record). More importantly, Nelson, along with Garcia and John Dawson, was a founding member of the New Riders Of The Purple Sage, Garcia's first extra-curricular band. In subsequent decades, Nelson made all sorts of great music, with and without Garcia, and continues to do so in both the revitalized New Riders and the David Nelson Band.

This chronology would not have been possible without the dedicated efforts of Ross Hannan, Chris Recker, the late Russell Towle and David Nelson. Anyone with additional information, insights, corrections or recovered memories (real or imagined) is urged to Comment or email me.

Genesis of The New Delhi River Band: Palo Alto, California, Early 1960s
Palo Alto, 32 miles South of San Francisco on Highway 101, was the College town associated with nearby Stanford University, and the city and its residents have always considered themselves special. This sense of specialness has always set Palo Alto apart from (and annoyed) its nearest neighbors, Menlo Park (to the North) and Mountain View and Los Altos (to the South). When the Stanford Shopping Center undermined the businesses on University Avenue in the 1950s, downtown Palo Alto became somewhat of a ghost town. Too far from campus to benefit much from the College students, downtown became a hangout for coffee-drinking folkies like Jerry Garcia.

In the early 1960s, just about every ‘College Town’ in America had some sort of folk scene. The Cambridge, MA and Greenwich Village scenes which began Joan Baez (Palo Alto High School, class of ’58) and Bob Dylan’s careers were the most developed, but every college had something like it. There was a modest circuit of South Bay clubs, including the Off Stage in San Jose (near San Jose State), the Top of The Tangent in Palo Alto (at 117 University Avenue, between High and Alma) and the Boar’s Head in San Carlos. While the venues and audiences were small, many of the local folk, bluegrass and blues performers on that circuit became famous in 60s rock bands. Among the many local stalwarts were banjoist Jerry Garcia, guitarist Jorma ‘Jerry’ Kaukonen’ and singers Paul Kantner and David Freiberg.

For aspiring musicians in the mid-60s, however, the Folk boom had already crested the wave, notwithstanding that its most famous practitioners (like Joan Baez) were quite successful. Jerry Garcia, for example, working in Palo Alto and living in Menlo Park, had a series of bluegrass bands in 1962 and ’63 with his friend David Nelson and poet Robert Hunter. In 1964, Garcia had also formed a jug band with various friends who included Bob Weir and Ron ‘Pigpen’ Mckernan. Although both ventures were musically fruitful, gigs were few and far between. Nelson was a sometime member of the Jug Band, but in early 1965, Nelson and Robert Hunter went to Los Angeles, in order to "explore Scientology."

David Nelson
David Nelson (born Seattle, WA June 12, 1943) grew up in San Mateo and went to Carlmont High School in Belmont, graduating in 1961. As the sixties continued, Nelson was part of the group of serious bluegrass musicians playing the tiny coffee houses of the South Bay. Nelson was in some of the South Bay’s leading bluegrass bands, like the Wildwood Boys and Black Mountain Boys, with Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, and after a brief stint at Oakland’s College of Arts and Crafts, he joined the East Bay’s leading bluegrass band The Pine Valley Boys, with Butch Waller and Herb Pedersen. By 1965, however, bluegrass had been trumped by The Beatles and expanding consciousness. Nonetheless, since the Pine Valley Boys were based in Los Angeles in 1964-65, Nelson's peculiar trip to 'explore Scientology' in mid-65 was not as far-fetched as it may seem.

At the time, electric rock bands were never taken seriously. They had mostly played surf music or the “Louie Louie” styled R&B coming out of the Pacific Northwest. Many folk musicians moonlighted in such bands for a few bucks, but hardly thought about it. The advent of The Beatles and A Hard Day’s Night changed everything. The British Invasion that followed the Beatles not only brought forth lightweights like Herman’s Hermits but serious shouters like The Rolling Stones, The Animals, Them and The Yardbirds. A ‘teen circuit’ had sprung up in the South Bay, and although much of it was trivial, there was a chance for local bands to play some funky electric blues in the style of the Stones or The Animals. In early 1965, Pigpen suggested to Garcia and Weir that they form an electric blues band to replace their jug band, and The Warlocks were formed.

In May, 1965 the Warlocks played every Wednesday at Magoo’s Pizza in Menlo Park (at 639 Santa Cruz Avenue), beginning the long strange trip of the Grateful Dead. If Nelson and Hunter had been in Palo Alto, they might have been part of the Dead from the beginning. Nelson had been one of Garcia’s principal bluegrass conspirators, but he was not invited to join the Warlocks because he was out of the town at that moment, and in any case Nelson was not planning on being an electric guitarist at the time. However, by the time Nelson returned from LA, later in 1965, the Warlocks were fully established without him [update: Nelson and Hunter had indeed been in Los Angeles in early 1965, but I had the chronology garbled, as some Commenters pointed out. See below for some amazing memories from David Nelson, via David Gans, about 'going electric," and how David Nelson introduced Phil Lesh to the electric bass in about half-an-hour).

In Fall 1965, Nelson moved into a communal house on the corner of Waverley Street and Channing Avenue. Banjo-playing artist Rick Shubb held the lease, and residents in the fall of 1965 included Jerry Garcia and his wife Sara, Robert Hunter and David Nelson. The "Waverley Street House" (on the 600 block, odd side, long since torn down and replace by condos), was a large purple Edwardian with turrets.

According to an eyewitness, 18-year old Foothill College student Chris Recker, the whole Palo Alto bohemian scene was about 30 people (not counting Ken Kesey’s crowd, whom all the older people knew). They all lived in just a few places, like the “Channing House” (on the 400 block of Channing between Waverley and Cowper), and the house where Recker lived on Forest and Cowper. In the beginning of 1966, Garcia moved out of the Waverley Street House, going with the Grateful Dead to Los Angeles. Shubb held onto the least for a few more months, but he left, too. Nelson moved over to the Channing House sometime in the Spring of '66.

Whatever Nelson’s plans had been, they changed when he went to San Francisco’s Longshoreman’s Hall for The Trips Festival on January 21, 22 and 23, 1966. LSD and The Grateful Dead kicked the doors of perception open for David Nelson just as it would for so many others.

The Outfit
Among the residents of the Channing Avenue House was one Carl Moore, who while holding down a regular job had ideas towards something better. Moore, Nelson and some others concocted the idea of a Trips Festival inspired nightclub called 'The Outfit.' The idea, according to Nelson, was that there would be a nightclub, a band and a light show all called The Outfit. Strange as a permanent Acid Test may seem today as a commercial venture, remember that LSD was still legal in mid-1966, so the concept would have appeared cutting edge rather than merely ill-advised.

A parking garage now covers the site of the mysterious Outfit club in Palo Alto (photo: Corry-2010)
Moore seems to have focused on finding the performance space, while Nelson hatched plans to put together a band. Moore found a deserted warehouse over by the railroad tracks, and Recker recalls that local carpenter Bill Shuman was hired to build a huge stage in the middle of the building. The building where The Outfit was located on Homer Lane, a street that no longer exists in Palo Alto (upadte: it turns out that it was on Homer Avenue--Homer Lane was in Menlo Park. The google maps location is still accurate, however). For local residents, it was behind Town And Country Village, on the West (Stanford) side of the railroad tracks, opposite Homer Avenue (which was East of the tracks). For Google mappers, search Urban Lane and Wells Avenue (Palo Alto 94301) for an approximate location. The area is now the parking lot for the Palo Alto Medical Center (as shown in the photo above).

It is fairly likely, though not certain, that The Outfit was located in the same building that would later become Homer's Warehouse in Palo Alto in 1972. Old And In The Way and Garcia/Saunders would play Homer's Warehouse (at 79 Homer Lane) a number of times in 1973. If the site of Homer's Warehouse was not the site of The Outfit, they would have been within a few buildings of each other.

Memories of The Outfit are fairly muddled--why would that be, do you think?--but you can find traces of it on the Internet if you poke around. One peculiarity has been that most people could not recall the name of the venue. Chris Recker remembered the name of the club, but it was David Nelson, when he was kind enough to take time to discuss it with me in Greensboro, NC, who recalled that the plan was that the band, club and light show would have the same name, but that there was only one Saturday night where they managed to put on an event. Neal Cassady was invited to the event to give it appropriate Acid Test cachet, and he was present, but even Nelson could not recall the date. Some fuzzy Palo Alto memories also understandably confuse The Big Beat Acid Test with The Outfit, but they were distinctly different places, even if many of the same people attended both events.

External evidence suggests that The Outfit was open for a single Saturday night in June of 1966. The event would not have been publicized through regular means, like the local newspaper, and there was no underground press at the time. Chris Recker vaguely recalls more than one event, but that may simply be conflated memory working its tricks. I trust Nelson here: The Outfit had one memorable event, with Neal Cassady, a new band featuring Nelson, a lot of madness and no financial viability whatsoever. There is a good chance that the space was used for a few other events, pretty much just parties, which accounts for Recker's memories.

No flyers or posters have survived for The Outfit, and I expect that Carl Moore had no permits nor wanted to attract the attention of any authorities. LSD was perfectly legal, but the police knew that where there was LSD there was pot and speed, and it wasn’t hard to make arrests. The bohemians who wanted to attend these events all knew each other, so any publicity would merely have attracted squares, and with them, the cops. 

The Outfit's light show was fairly sophisticated for the time. The main proponents were two Stanford art students named Paul Mittig and Gayle Curtis. Both men were forward-looking practitioners of modern art (Russell Towle recalls seeing a display of Mittig’s computer art at Stanford), and Light Shows were what was hip in the mid 60s. As was typical of the 60s, while a few inspired designers planned the light show, numerous helpers were required to manage the actual effects. One attendee at The Outfit was Neal Casady's psychiatrist, Dr. Leon Tabory, who among other things was the proprietor of a nascent psychedelic club in the Santa Cruz Mountains called The Barn. Tabory drafted Mittig and Curtis for The Barn and renamed them The Magic Theater (a sample of their work can be seen on the back cover of the first Country Joe And The Fish album, photographed at The Barn).

The Band
Chris Recker was a regular visitor and eventually a resident of the Channing Avenue House in early 1966, and he recalls the process by which the band was formed that would ultimately become the New Delhi River Band. In the wake of A Hard Day’s Night and The Byrds "Mr. Tambourine Man," “Folk-Rock” elbowed aside Folk music. One such early folk-rock group was a South Bay band called Bethlehem Exit. Bethlehem Exit's members were from Cupertino and Los Altos, towns just South of Palo Alto. Chris Recker, then a Foothill College student living in Los Altos (this was before he moved to Channing Avenue) recalls seeing Bethlehem Exit in an obscure Los Altos coffee shop in Fall 1965. They were a four-piece Byrds style band at the time, led by guitarist Peter Sultzbach.

By Spring 1966, Bethlehem Exit had morphed somewhat into a bluesier sound. John Tomasi had joined the group on harmonica and vocals, probably replacing the other guitarist. Recker recalls seeing the Butterfield Blues Band with John Tomasi, probably in March 1966, and the Butterfield Blues Band had had a huge effect on them, as it did on so many young musicians. It's not certain who the drummer was, although he may have been named Chris Engstrom.

The Bethlehem Exit did release a bluesy sounding single in 1966, “Walk Me Out”/”Blues Concerning My Girl” (Jabberwock 110). The label was based in Walnut Creek (and had nothing to do with Berkeley’s Jabberwock folk club), leading to the false assumption that the band was from Contra Costa County. How Bethlehem Exit came to record for a Walnut Creek label remains unknown. Nevertheless, Bethelehem Exit did play a few shows in the East Bay (I know of five—see the Appendix below) between March 25 and May 27, 1966.

Chris Recker had a buddy named Zu McDonald who was friendly with Bethlehem Exit. At some point, probably around Spring of 1966, Zu had brought over a couple of members of the band to meet David Nelson, and the idea was hatched of a hip white blues band on the Butterfield model. The very first rehearsals of the New Delhi River Band featured John Tomasi on vocals and harmonica, Peter Sultzbach on lead guitar, David Nelson on rhythm, a forgotten drummer and a friend named Austin Keith on bass. Recker saw some of the rehearsals, and said that Keith was a converted guitar player who had clearly never played bass before, as he mostly tried to strum chords on the bass.

The group played blues and R&B songs like “Messin With The Kid”, “Youngblood” and “Suzie Q.” The history of the name is unknown, but whatever the meaning, The New Delhi River Band was born as The Outfit. One eyewitness (Greg Troll) recalls that the New Delhi River Band sounded more like John Mayall than Paul Butterfield, but that too was still high praise for the 1960s, as Mayall’s freewheeling blues improvisations were a popular attraction at the Fillmore. In mid-1966, there were very few blues bands in the South Bay. About the only other ones I know about were a reputedly pretty good group called Manbevil based in Palo Alto, and a Redwood City band called The Good News, who would soon play an important part in the NDRB story.

Although David Nelson was a former bluegrass musician with no previous “electric” experience, Chris Recker recalls Nelson’s critical role in the NDRB sound:
Dave listened to all kinds of music and dug the James Brown stuff. He really chopped out the chords and handed it to you on a silver platter. He was a rhythm section's dream. Kind of like Freddie Greene who was the guitarist in the Count Basie Band, who didn't solo but was the heartbeat of the band.

The New Delhi River Band
Even I am not certain of the first New Delhi River Band performance. At this point I am uncertain who even played bass and drums for the first few months. I think the drummer from Bethlehem Exit was the initial drummer for the NDRB (possibly named Chris Engstrom), but I am uncertain about that, too. Austin Keith may have played bass for the show by The Outfit, and probably some early gigs, but that too is uncertain. I have also been unable to identify any venues, much less actual dates, up until August of 1966, other than The Outfit.

When I raised the subject of bass players with David Nelson, he rather unexpectedly said that John Dawson played bass for the New Delhi River Band. But Nelson ruefully added "he only lasted one gig. He wasn't really a bass player." Dawson's brief tenure explains why Pete Frame included him as an NDRB member in the New Riders Family Tree, where I first heard of The New Delhi River Band and The Barn.

However, I have been able to determine that by August the NDRB were playing an extended engagement at a “Teen” (under 21) club in San Jose called Losers South, at 1500 Almaden Expressway. The New Delhi River Band played there for a few weeks, opening for Roy Head for at least a weekend, and then opening for Them on their legendary American tour. Carl Moore and the Channing Street crew (including Rusty Towle and Chris Recker) did the light show, under the name The Outfit, the last trace of the lost Palo Alto venue. At least once, some members of Them (although not Van Morrison) came back to Channing Street to hang out and got a full taste of Palo Alto psychedelia.

Thanks to Van Morrison’s fame, a flyer survives of Them’s engagement, from August 16-21, 1966 seen at the top  of this post. On the flyer, the opening band was listed as New Dalie River Band, not the last time the group’s name was oddly spelled. Whether this was a folklore joke or something else remains beyond my sources at this time.

The Barn, Scotts Valley
The story of The New Delhi River Band is inextricably intertwined with a mostly forgotten venue in the Santa Cruz Mountains called The Barn. The Barn, known as 'The Fillmore of The Mountains," was only open from mid-66 through mid-68, and indeed it was closed during much of that time as well. What little information is available on The Barn mostly comes from our site, and what is posted there is fairly outdated. By the Fall of 1966, the New Delhi River Band would become the "House Band" of The Barn, whatever exactly that meant. After The Barn closed, it disappeared without a trace. I can recall being at the Foothill College radio station in 1975 and reading Pete Frame's New Riders Family Tree (promulgated as part of a Columbia Records promo package), and finding out about both The New Delhi River Band and The Barn for the first time. The Barn was located in Scotts Valley, less than 8 years and 30 minutes from where I was standing when I first read about it (Moody Road in Los Altos), and it was as if it had never existed at all.

Eric Nord, proprietor of a string of coffee houses that included the famous Hungry I in San Francisco and the Sticky Wicket in Aptos (in Southern Santa Cruz County), had opened a coffee house and art gallery in a converted dairy barn in Fall, 1965. Scotts Valley, an isolated mountain town at the time, did not take kindly to the sort of beatniks who visited the coffee shop. The coffee house closed in early 1966, but to the dismay of the locals it was taken over by the Santa Cruz psychiatrist, Dr. Leon Tabory.  Tabory started presenting rock shows in the relatively cavernous upstairs part of the structure, which had hitherto been used for square dances and basketball games. The Barn rapidly coalesced from a “Performance Space” to the “Fillmore Of The Mountains.”  Some of the San Francisco bands played there, and it appears that guest appearances by famous musicians who were in the area were not unknown.  The Barn is remembered fondly by anyone who ever attended or played there, but memories are very fuzzy (why, do you think?).

Tabory (1925-2009) was a remarkable man whose story is too much to tell in this context. Tabory had been Neal Cassady's prison psychiatrist. After testifying to help defend a Prankster (Peter Demma) in an obscenity case, he focused on the idea that people needed a 'performance space' to express themselves.  The earliest known rock show at The Barn is May 22, 1966, with Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, but it may have begun before that. In any case, by Summer 1966 The Barn had become the hip place to hang out in the South Bay on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

I now know, however, that Tabory got his insight into how The Barn should operate from visiting The Outfit. Whether or not Tabory ever went to the Fillmore or Avalon is unclear, but in any case he would not likely have gone on his own, as he was considerably older than most of the bohemians. It appears he went to The Outfit through his connection with Neal Cassady. Tabory hired Gayle Curtis and Paul Mittig to do the light shows at The Barn, and they named themselves The Magic Theater, and a local Santa Cruz artist (Joe Lyzowski) painted psychedelic murals on the walls of The Barn. Carl Moore and others at Channing Avenue continued to operate as a free lance light show called The Outfit after Curtis and Mittig left.

Its important to remember that in Summer and Fall 1966, long hair, weed and the blues were pretty Underground commodities. Outside of the Haight Ashbury and the vicinity of Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, such people weren’t welcome. One of the very few safe, fun places in the South Bay to go for adults who aspired to that was The Barn. South Bay bohemians, Merry Pranksters, future South Bay hippies, Gypsy Joker bikers, members of the Family Dog and other fringe characters knew that they had a safe haven on weekends at the converted Dairy Barn off Granite Creek Road. The New Delhi River Band became regular performers at the hippest place outside of San Francisco, and they are fondly (if somewhat fuzzily) remembered by all who saw them there.

New Delhi River Band Concert History, Spring-Summer 1966


Bethlehem Exit
Peter Sultzbach-lead guitar
John Tomasi-harmonica, vocals
Dave Wilkie-bass
Chris Engstrom-drums
Bethlehem Exit had debuted at a small, obscure coffee shop in Los Altos in Fall 1965, probably with Sultzbach and some other members. The band members were apparently from Cupertino and Los Altos, towns near Palo Alto. They released a single for a Walnut Creek label ("Walk Me Out"/"Blues Concerning My Girl" for Jabberwock Records, not associated with the Berkeley club) and had some gigs around the East Bay.

March 25, 1966: The Bear’s Lair, UC Berkeley: The Wildflower/Bethlehem Exit ("Frantic Folk-Kick")
The show also featured movies from “Kesey’s Trip” and “Sassy Sophie from El Cid” (presumably a burlesque dancer).

April 15, 1966: The Bear’s Lair, UC Berkeley: Bethlehem Exit/The Answer/The Exiles (“Trip Dance”)

April 24, 1966: North Field, UC Berkeley: Country Joe And The Fish/Malvina Reynolds/Wildflower/Dan Paik/Chris Selsor/Gothic Cathedral Jug Band/Bethlehem Exit
(Robert Scheer For Congress Benefit)

May 6, 1966: Wurster Hall, UC Berkeley: Latin AllStars/John Handy/Quicksilver Messenger Service/Bethlehem Exit (“Beaux Arts Ball.”)
The Beaux Arts Ball was a campus-wide arts festival of sorts. Wurster Hall was the newly-constructed building for the Department of Architecture. The current configuration of the building would not support a dance/concert. This event may have been in the building's basement.

May 27, 1966: 321 Divisadero, San Francisco: Bethlehem Exit
A KPFA sponsored 'Happening' (possibly held May 28). “No dancing” was part of the advertising, typical of a lot of San Francisco events, due to an archaic law about Dance Permits.

Summer 1966: The Outfit, Palo Alto, CA

The Outfit/New Delhi River Band
John Tomasi-vocals, harmonica
Peter Sultzbach-lead guitar
David Nelson-guitar
Austin Keith?-bass
Chris Engstrom?-drums
The date for this remains murky, but it most likely was after the demise of Bethlehem Exit, possibly in mid-June of 1966. David Nelson told me that the plan was to have an ongoing band and nightclub, but they only managed one show. Chris Recker has a vestigal memory of an East Bay band called The Soul Survivors (not the East Coast band who did "Expressway To Your Heart") playing at The Outfit, so perhaps they played as well. Recker also murkily recalls Nelson playing bass with the Soul Survivors on an emergency basis.

There must be some New Delhi River Band shows in the July 1966 period, but I have found no trace of them so far. Bass players and drummer may have come and gone, including John Dawson for one unknown show.

Update: I have since learned from David Nelson himself (via David Gans) that the early New Delhi River Band didn't even have a drummer. Someone, presumably Austin Keith, played bass. John Dawson played one show at The Barn, probably in September or October of 1966. Chris Herold was the band's first drummer, and he in turn brought in Dave Torbert.

August 9-14, 1966: Losers South, San Jose: Roy Head/New Delhi River Band
The New Delhi River Band's earliest confirmed performance is opening for Roy Head at a San Jose club called Losers South. Losers South was at 1500 Almaden Expressway, and was formerly a restaurant called the Hawaiian Gardens (there was a Losers North in the same complex, to add to the confusion). The venue made a stab at booking ‘underground’ bands during the summer of 1966. The date is approximated. Roy Head may not have been the headliner for more than a few days, and other groups may have played. I suspect that NDRB may have gotten the booking because The Outfit provided the light show.

Roy Head had scored some hits, particularly with the song "Treat Her Right." Chris Recker, who helped with the lights, recalled Head singing while fronting a tight trio with a fine guitarist (Head was not the guitarist at this time. Jerry Garcia fans will note that this configuration also means that Sarah Fulcher had left Head's band by this time.)

August 16-21, 1966:  Losers South, San Jose: Them/People/New Delhi River Band
A memorable early gig of the New Delhi River Band was opening for Van Morrison and Them for a week at Losers South. Them were a legendary British Invasion band at this point, on their first, last and seminal American tour. Them were sensational Irish rockers (they had recorded “Gloria” in 1964), yet at the same time, Van Morrison was just starting to move towards the mystical Irish soul music he would become famous for. Indeed, he had just met Janet (Planet) Rigsbee, his future wife and the world’s Brown-Eyed Girl, in San Leandro on May 27 at the Rollarena in San Leandro.

Them’s records had had a huge impact on West Coast music already, but their stay on the West Coast from May through July was memorable as well. Them's three-week stint at the Whisky was a revelation to the opening act The Doors, and Jim Morrison based his “Lizard King” stage persona and Van’s brooding but energetic performances (unlikely as that may seem now). At Loser South, the bluesy New Delhi River Band opened the show and The Outfit provided the lights. The Irish lads hung out with the blues band and came back to the Channing house on at least one occasion. On the poster, the group is billed as “New Dalie River Band.” People, second on the bill, were a popular San Jose band As a telling footnote, People bassist Geoff Levin had been in a bluegrass band with David Nelson. 

September 3, 1966: Trip City Skate Arena, Hayward:  Loading Zone/New Delhi River Band
With the advent of the Fillmore and Avalon, all sort of local teen dance clubs renamed themselves things like ‘Trip City.’The Skate Arena was at 650 A Street in Hayward.

Thursday nights, September 1966: The Barn, Scotts Valley
I know that in the first, glorious year of The Barn it was only open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. On Friday and Saturday, the headline acts were often groups who played the Fillmore and the Avalon. There were not many venues for such bands to play, so The Barn got their share (although the Grateful Dead never played there, whatever you may read). On Thursday nights, however, local bands played, and it was more about hanging out than a concert. Although I have been unable to pin it down for certain, I'm pretty sure that the New Delhi River Band played some of these Thursday nights around September of 1966, and they must have been good enough to graduate to weekend shows. 

September 30-October 1 (?), 1966: Losers South, San Jose: The Doors/New Delhi River Band
I saw the New Riders of The Purple Sage in Greensboro, NC on July 8, 2010 (they were great). After the show, I had a chance to speak with David Nelson, who was quite astonished to find that anybody was looking into the history of The New Delhi River Band. After he got over his surprise, Nelson couldn't have been nicer, taking a few minutes to sort out some details and opened the door to some other astonishing recollections.

When I showed Nelson a scan of the Losers South show with Them (up top), he turned to his bass player, who was sitting next to him, and said "Losers South! That's what I was trying to remember. It was Losers South where we opened for Them." Amazingly, he went on: "We opened for The Doors there also." He then told his bass player "That's what I was telling you about and I couldn't remember the place."

I am fully aware of the known chronology of The Doors history, and the fact that no such date is listed. However, particularly having seen Nelson's spontaneous reaction to the flyer, I am confident that Nelson has a clear, specific memory of opening for The Doors. Looking at known Doors performances for late Summer 1966, a Bay Area performance in the last weekend of September  would make chronological sense. The Doors had been exiled from The Whisky A Go Go on August 18, signed by Elektra, recorded their first album over the week of August 24-31, but did not go to New York (Ondine's) until October 31. A quick trip up Highway 101 at the end of September would be quite plausible. Elektra Records would not have wanted to expose them at the Fillmore or the Avalon without an album, but expanding their buzz a little bit would be promotionally shrewd. Losers South had already been booking artists like Jackie DeShannon, so they had plenty of LA connections.

After the surprising revelation about The Doors, Nelson added that he had been looking for his New Delhi River Band demo tape. A poorly recorded 4-song demo had been known to exist, but this was another tape. According to Nelson, "We did a demo of all our songs, we recorded it in this guy's basement, it has like 15 or 16 songs." He added: "I never throw out a tape." Good for him. So while the New Delhi River Band has been lost to history up until now, they turn out to have merely been submerged, not gone. The next three installments of this series will explore the history and the performances of the New Delhi River Band, with the fervent hope that David Nelson will find that tape and bring them up above the water line.

Part 2 of the saga of The New Delhi River Band can be seen here

Appendix: David Gans recently interviewed David Nelson, and was kind enough to share some of Nelson's amazing stories (interview by DG on January 10, 2012):

I
DN: I got with The Pine Valley Boys and went to Los Angeles and played with Herb Pedersen and Butch Waller.
DG: You went to LA To play bluegrass?

DN: Hunter was in LA
DG: What was he doing in LA?
DN: I don't want to say.
DG: The Scientology thing?
DN: Yeah.

II
DN: So [Rick] Shubb comes over on that day. So that day, I think it was nine people or thirteen people or something like that that, all took acid at the same time for their first time. It was Jerry and Sara, me, Eric Thompson, David and Bonnie [Parker], Rick Shubb, and then some more – I swear there was more, but anyway that was the hard core – then we all decided, “Yeah I think it's best the first time, I'm kind of queasy and nervous and let's all go off and then we'll meet, you know when we're there.” That was a good idea. I went and laid on the bed and stuff started to go swirling around and everything and I’d go, “I feel good now.”
.... And several of us are sitting there and we talked, “What if there's like some dangerous pitfalls and things to watch out for? We gotta go ask Hunter! He's done it before.” And so we all run down over to Ramona Street and knock on his door and he looks at us and he goes, “Do you always jump out of planes without a parachute?” We said, “Please, please Mr. Man, will you please help us here?” So he says, “Okay, just a minute.” And we come in and he's got chairs lined up.
DG: He was expecting you?
DN: No, no, he just said, “Just a minute” and he set these chairs up facing him, you know. So he was sitting like this and I remember him talking and it sounding really profound, but I remember he made a gesture like this – then it just goes “pfeew” and I saw “brrd, brrd, brrd, brrrrrrrrrrrd” a fan, the fingers. “Brrrrrrd, brrrrrrrd, brrrrrrd”. My eyes just went “waahhh” and that was it. For me, that was it. The visual stuff was just like so fantastic.

Then we went back to the house and we discovered looking at yourself in the mirror is a total thing. It's like, “Who is that? I didn't know I looked like that!” You don't look the same. You really don't. And you look at your hand, it doesn't look like the same hand. There's all kinds of stuff – really fun. Anyway, so that started the thing of, "I think we're going to go electric."

III
DN: There was a lot of talk on what we called the "trips couch." "Come on over here and sit on the trips couch," you know? And there was talk about going electric. Yeah! Jerry and me both recalled, remember those nights just a couple years ago we'd get together and just do old rock and roll songs all night long? Once you do one - “Oh yeah, let's do 'Searchin',” you know. “Let's do all that kind of stuff.” And Jerry even had a couple of gigs through Stanford University where it was him and some – Troy Weidenheimer, who already played electric, because electric wasn't out of the question. Not at all. It was to the world, the media and everything. But... rock and roll is where I started in music actually. And Troy Weidenheimer was a working electric guitar player. We used to just admire him and sit there and watch him play. I later played a couple of gigs - I played bass with Troy Weidenheimer. So, there's all this thinking about yeah, go electric. I’m still working with The Pine Valley Boys, but Eric [Thompson] comes by one time to Gilman Street and says, “Hey, they're practicing down at Dana Morgan's Music Store right now.” It was about this time of day [late afternoon]. I said, “Yeah? Let's go over.” So we walked over there, and there they are in the window and you know, and Garcia's going, to Weir, “No, no, no, not like that you goony child!” I thought, oh man.

DG: Jerry was being mean to Bob?

DN: We thought that's awful hard to take. I don't know if I could stand that, man.

DG: Being yelled at by Jerry?

DN: Because we would be in the same position.

IV (Nelson lived in a house on Gilman Street before Waverley Street, around June 65, also near downtown)
NELSON: Here's the thing that goes back to Waverley Street, which followed Gilman Street, okay? Gilman Street was only a month or two long because the guy said it's in its interim stage, but Gilman Street is where Jerry found Phil, because Phil was always going to Las Vegas or he was studying classical music under Berio and stuff like that, or jazz trumpet, and uh the big news was, wow, we found Phil! And he's coming, and he's going to play bass. So I think Jerry asked me to show Phil something about the bass – about a fretted stringed instrument.


DG: Because he had never played one.

DN: “I'd be glad to.” I forget what it was, though. I think it was more than just telling him, but it might have been just that – it was Jerry's not going to be available that day and he wanted me to tell him because he's getting his bass. Because he got a room at Gilman Street. That's why – yeah, yeah.

DG: He moved in and joined the band.

DN: He's got his room, and uh so maybe I gave him the first talk and I said, you know, “Tuning is this, and each fret's a half step, blah, blah, blah.” Phil goes, “Got it. That's all I need to know.” And I showed him bass positions because I had played bass before, yeah and I said, “Here’s the basic thing they use. This finger's for the tonic and here's a boogie pattern, 'boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom'” I think I showed him that or something like that and he goes, “Okay, thanks Dave.” And then every day I’d hear ... the guy practicing on the electric instrument without an amp, you know.

DG: It's the clatter of the string on the frets.

DN: All day, every day.


16 comments:

  1. Cool stuff!

    I have to question your mid-1965 timeline, though. You say that Nelson was in Los Angeles at the time the Warlocks were formed, so he was not invited to join.
    All the sources I've seen, though, say that he was in Palo Alto. McNally (p.80) says that in April 1965, Nelson and Hunter were in Palo Alto. Nelson also says (Dark Star p.55) that he moved into the Gilman Street house in Palo Alto in the spring of '65.
    Nelson also told Blair Jackson, "I remember the first rehearsals at Dana Morgan’s: me and Eric Thompson went over and checked them out."
    McNally mentions that Hunter saw the shows at Magoo's (Hunter thought the May 12 show was "wonderful").
    Hank Harrison (for what it's worth) said that John Dawson & David Nelson were both also at Magoo's - Dawson himself has confirmed, "I was at the Warlocks’ first gig at the pizza parlor at Magoo’s." And I can see no reason why Nelson wouldn't have been there as well - it seems to have been the Warlocks' policy to invite all their friends! (I don't recall Nelson ever mentioning a Magoo's show, though.)
    In Dark Star p.67, Nelson says he stayed on the house on Gilman Street for "about six months," and then moved into the house on Waverley. McNally says the move happened in August, which would also place Nelson in Palo Alto in spring '65.

    In short, whatever reason he wasn't in the Warlocks, it wasn't because he was in LA. Hunter was definitely around too, but he had no place in the Warlocks!

    (For those interested, Nelson has a cute story of listening to the Meet the Beatles album with Garcia in Dark Star p.51.)

    And a minor thing - the spelling "New Dalie River Band" on the poster reminds me of an earlier Nelson band. As he said, "Me and Hunter came up with the name Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions." And as we know, Mother McCree's had a habit of spelling their name differently on each poster... Could the hand of Nelson be behind these practices?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for the interesting information about the timing of Nelson's trip to Los Angeles to "investigate Scientology." It has been very hard to pin down the dates. I guess Nelson really wasn't interested in playing electric music until 1966.

    You are right on the money about my suspicions about band spelling. I know that Mother McRee's was intentionally misspelled on posters as a sort of folklore joke. Given the number of times that the New Delhi River Band's name was corrupted on posters, I no longer believe that it was merely an accident.

    ReplyDelete
  3. It can be hard to recover what these guys were doing in 1965, because often they don't remember themselves!

    Per McNally, Robert Hunter was around in Palo Alto for Jerry's first acid trip in April 65, and Nelson and Sara both confirm that Hunter was there at the time - and Garcia, Nelson & co. moved into the same Waverley house as Hunter in summer 65. And Hunter even told McNally he was at the Magoo's shows.
    But this is from a 1991 interview with Blair Jackson:

    Q: Where were you when the Warlocks started?
    HUNTER: I must've been down in LA at that point; I'm not really sure.
    GARCIA: He was doing other stuff, but he only barely missed it. The first time I saw him after we'd been playing - there was a big hole there for a while because he wasn't around for the Acid Tests either, except at the very end, were you?
    HUNTER: No, I was there at the San Jose Acid Test and the Fillmore Acid Test. [December '65]
    GARCIA: That's right, I remember you at the Fillmore Acid Test.
    HUNTER: I made most of the local ones.
    GARCIA: And you and me first talked about writing tunes together sometime after our first record came out.
    HUNTER: That sounds about right.

    Yet, weren't they living in the same house together during/before the Acid Tests?
    Given such confusion from the musicians themselves, historians have quite a task getting things straight!

    ReplyDelete
  4. From my January 10, 2012 interview with Nelson. Does this help at all?

    DN: I got with The Pine Valley Boys and went to Los Angeles and played with Herb Pedersen and Butch Waller.
    DG: You went to LA To play bluegrass?

    DN: Hunter was in LA
    DG: What was he doing in LA?
    DN: I don't want to say.
    DG: The Scientology thing?
    
DN: Yeah.

    ReplyDelete
  5. More from the same interview:

    DN: So [Rick] Shubb comes over on that day. So that day, I think it was nine people or thirteen people or something like that that, all took acid at the same time for their first time. It was Jerry and Sara, me, Eric Thompson, David and Bonnie [Parker], Rick Shubb, and then some more – I swear there was more, but anyway that was the hard core – then we all decided, “Yeah I think it's best the first time, I'm kind of queasy and nervous and let's all go off and then we'll meet, you know when we're there.” That was a good idea. I went and laid on the bed and stuff started to go swirling around and everything and I’d go, “I feel good now.”
    .... And several of us are sitting there and we talked, “What if there's like some dangerous pitfalls and things to watch out for? We gotta go ask Hunter! He's done it before.” And so we all run down over to Ramona Street and knock on his door and he looks at us and he goes, “Do you always jump out of planes without a parachute?” We said, “Please, please Mr. Man, will you please help us here?” So he says, “Okay, just a minute.” And we come in and he's got chairs lined up.
    DG: He was expecting you?
DN: No, no, he just said, “Just a minute” and he set these chairs up facing him, you know. So he was sitting like this and I remember him talking and it sounding really profound, but I remember he made a gesture like this – then it just goes “pfeew” and I saw “brrd, brrd, brrd, brrrrrrrrrrrd” a fan, the fingers. “Brrrrrrd, brrrrrrrd, brrrrrrd”. My eyes just went “waahhh” and that was it. For me, that was it. The visual stuff was just like so fantastic.

    Then we went back to the house and we discovered looking at yourself in the mirror is a total thing. It's like, “Who is that? I didn't know I looked like that!” You don't look the same. You really don't. And you look at your hand, it doesn't look like the same hand. There's all kinds of stuff – really fun. Anyway, so that started the thing of, "I think we're going to go electric."

    ReplyDelete
  6. And more...

    DN: There was a lot of talk on what we called the "trips couch." "Come on over here and sit on the trips couch," you know? And there was talk about going electric. Yeah! Jerry and me both recalled, remember those nights just a couple years ago we'd get together and just do old rock and roll songs all night long? Once you do one - “Oh yeah, let's do 'Searchin',” you know. “Let's do all that kind of stuff.” And Jerry even had a couple of gigs through Stanford University where it was him and some – Troy Weidenheimer, who already played electric, because electric wasn't out of the question. Not at all. It was to the world, the media and everything. But... rock and roll is where I started in music actually. And Troy Weidenheimer was a working electric guitar player. We used to just admire him and sit there and watch him play. I later played a couple of gigs - I played bass with Troy Weidenheimer. So, there's all this thinking about yeah, go electric. I’m still working with The Pine Valley Boys, but Eric [Thompson] comes by one time to Gilman Street and says, “Hey, they're practicing down at Dana Morgan's Music Store right now.” It was about this time of day [late afternoon]. I said, “Yeah? Let's go over.” So we walked over there, and there they are in the window and you know, and Garcia's going, to Weir, “No, no, no, not like that you goony child!” I thought, oh man.

    DG: Jerry was being mean to Bob?

    
DN: We thought that's awful hard to take. I don't know if I could stand that, man.

    DG: Being yelled at by Jerry?

    
DN: Because we would be in the same position.

    ReplyDelete
  7. David, thanks so much for sharing this amazing stuff. It seems like Nelson followed Garcia into the electric world in more ways than one. Its interesting also to find out that Nelson played electric bass with Troy Weidenheimer, just as Garcia had done (probably at Searsville Lake, too). This fits in with one of my sources memories of Nelson "debuting" as an electric musician on the bass, even though my source may have conflated it with another group.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Wow, that is wonderful stuff. Thank you, David and David!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Very nice interview quotes - if the rest of it is like this, it must be something!

    And it's quite interesting to see that Nelson had a connection with Troy Weidenheimer too, in that rotating bass slot!

    ReplyDelete
  10. I am working on the transcript of a 3.5-hour interview I did with Nelson in January. Once I have mined it for this book I'm working on, I'll post the whole thing somewhere. As Corry learned in the encounter he talked about here, David is a wonderful informant!

    ReplyDelete
  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  12. One more, unrelated to the current topic but a gem nonetheless:

    ...like Dylan says, “I’m just a person who walked by and I picked up on it. You walked by that many times. You didn't pick it up. But that song idea, I saw it like a seashell at the seashore, you know. Oh there's one!” He said that in an interview and it's always stuck with me about writing songs; he was asked something like, How do you come up with these ideas? He was asked specifically about one song – where did you get the idea? And he said, “Well, I was there at the time and I saw it.” So what he's suggesting is like I suggest to people who ask me, how did you end up choosing music as a career? I say, “No, no, no, no. Music chooses you.” It's just looking' for some motherfucker it can trust.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I can't resist. This might help you with your time line...

    NELSON: Here's the thing that goes back to Waverley Street, which followed Gilman Street, okay? Gilman Street was only a month or two long because the guy said it's in its interim stage, but Gilman Street is where Jerry found Phil, because Phil was always going to Las Vegas or he was studying classical music under Berio and stuff like that, or jazz trumpet, and uh the big news was, wow, we found Phil! And he's coming, and he's going to play bass. So I think Jerry asked me to show Phil something about the bass – about a fretted stringed instrument.


    DG: Because he had never played one.

    DN: “I'd be glad to.” I forget what it was, though. I think it was more than just telling him, but it might have been just that – it was Jerry's not going to be available that day and he wanted me to tell him because he's getting his bass. Because he got a room at Gilman Street. That's why – yeah, yeah.

    DG: He moved in and joined the band.

    DN: He's got his room, and uh so maybe I gave him the first talk and I said, you know, “Tuning is this, and each fret's a half step, blah, blah, blah.” Phil goes, “Got it. That's all I need to know.” And I showed him bass positions because I had played bass before, yeah and I said, “Here’s the basic thing they use. This finger's for the tonic and here's a boogie pattern, 'boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom'” I think I showed him that or something like that and he goes, “Okay, thanks Dave.” And then every day I’d hear ... the guy practicing on the electric instrument without an amp, you know.

    DG: It's the clatter of the string on the frets.

    DN: All day, every day.

    ReplyDelete
  14. David, this is an amazing story. The conventional wisdom was that Phil learned bass from Jerry, but it appears to be that he initially learned it from Nelson. Yet both Garcia's and Nelson's primary, if not sole, experience as electric bassists were as part-time members of Troy Weidenheimer's Zodiacs.

    What goes around, comes around, though. Just four years later Phil would end up as Nelson's bass player in the New Riders, if only temporarily. I'm really looking forward to the whole interview...

    ReplyDelete
  15. It seems clear that Phil's lesson with Nelson was brief and rudimentary. And it appears that EVERYONE was schooled by Jerry in various ways at various times.

    ReplyDelete
  16. The amazing thing is, EVERYONE seems to have given Phil tips on the bass - practically the same tips, too. It's like the Warlocks bass player was a communal project!

    Jackson's Garcia bio says that Phil "picked up the rudiments of the instrument from whoever was around: Garcia, John Dawson, David Nelson, Eric Thompson... [Thompson said,] 'Phil moved into the room across from me in this house and he'd never touched an electric bass before. I remember him picking up the bass for the first time and saying, 'Oh, how does this work?' and he started figuring out how to play scales on it immediately, very methodically.'"

    In Phil's book, he doesn't specifically mention any pointers from anybody, except that he got a guitar & some advice from his then-roommate Tom Purvis, and a tip from Jerry: "The bottom four strings on a guitar are tuned the same as the four strings of a bass, so borrow a guitar from somebody and practice scales on it until you can get down here and we'll start rehearsing."

    In the Dark Star book (p65), John Dawson remembers: "Phil came down one day and I got to meet Phil. They were in the back room at Dana's and they said, 'Here Phil, here's a bass.' And Phil said, 'What do I do with it?' And I said, 'This is the A string, this is the E string, and you get to make the E string be the same as the A string by pushing on the fifth fret, and then the same tone. The basic beat is boom boom, boom boom, and then you need to go up to here, boom boom, boom boom.' I just showed him which string was which, and where an E was on the A string. He picked up on that right away."

    Phil also mentions getting a room in the communal house. Since it was full of guitar players, he probably got quite a bit of advice from everyone as he started learning bass!

    I noticed that Nelson's memory was accurate enough that he says, "Gilman Street is where Jerry found Phil," meaning that it's where Jerry was living when he tapped Phil to be bass-player. (Which was true.)
    The interesting perspective that Nelson gives here - we always hear about Phil's end of it, but from one of Jerry's friends, it was more like, "Phil was always going to Las Vegas or he was studying classical music under Berio and stuff like that, or jazz trumpet, and the big news was, wow, we found Phil! And he's coming, and he's going to play bass."
    Phil had always been in & out of Palo Alto, there mainly on visits, hence more a person Jerry met at parties than someone to do musical projects with. You can tell from that quote how much Jerry had admired Phil before then, and glad he was to finally have a chance to work with him - "wow, we found Phil!" Indeed, for Jerry to invite Phil to be bass-player, he might have been thinking about it for quite some time before then.

    There are a couple hints that Jerry was planning to ask Phil - Eric Thompson recalled, "I remember exactly when it was clear that Dana Jr was not with the program on bass. Jerry said, 'We're gonna get Phil.'" (Jackson 74) Sue Swanson also remembered, "I drove Jerry up to the city the day that he went to find Phil to get him to play in the band. We went up in my car. It just wasn't working with Dana Morgan playing bass." (Greenfield 64)

    Also - note that, as far as we know, Jerry did NOT invite anyone else (like, say, David Nelson) to be the new bass player. And yet, with all these people living together, the housemates were kind of 'in on' the Warlocks anyway - it's no wonder Hunter, Nelson, Dawson & David Parker were all at Magoo's.

    ReplyDelete