Thursday, March 29, 2012

August 20, 1975 Great American Music Hall, San Francisco: Keith And Donna with Jerry Garcia ('Straight Life")

Listings for the Great American Music Hall for August 15-23, 1975, from the Fremont Argus of August 18, 1975. Note that Les Paul comes in for the following weekend
Recently, thanks to the miracle of accessibility that is the iPod, I listened again to the August 20, 1975 tape, where Jerry Garcia plays with the Keith And Donna band. The conventional wisdom over the decades has been that Garcia was between bands that month, couldn't stay away from playing, and sat in for a few dates with Keith And Donna because he could. While I still think that little narrative is essentially true, listening closely to the remarkable 25-minute version of Art Pepper's classic "Straight Life" made me consider the context of Garcia's August 1975 performances with Keith And Donna in an entirely new light. In particular, it made me realize how the 1976 Keith and Donna version of the Jerry Garcia Band was consciously constructed to contrast itself with the more freewheeling, jazzy ensembles with Merl Saunders that preceded it. I suggest this because I will argue that Garcia's performance with the Keith and Donna band, epitomized by the long, wonderful cover of "Straight Life," represent a snapshot of how Garcia, Keith and Donna would have sounded playing like the Garcia/Saunders ensemble, and how Garcia clearly chose not to travel that path he had already walked upon.

The Legion Of Mary and The Jerry Garcia Band, Summer 1975
The basic narrative is fairly well known, promulgated by the likes of me. Jerry Garcia had played with Merl Saunders since 1970, but by mid-1975, Garcia was looking for a change. At the time, The Legion Of Mary was an almost formal group, with Garcia, Saunders, John Kahn, Ron Tutt on drums and Martin Fierro on tenor sax and flute. If Tutt wasn't present, they played under the name 'Garcia-Saunders.' Occasionally Garcia also dropped in on Merl Saunders gigs, with Tony Saunders on bass and a variety of drummers, along with Fierro. All three ensembles played lengthy songs, with Garcia, Saunders and Fiero sharing solos, and a fair share of instrumentals and songs featuring Merl Saunders on vocals. Over the years, the Garcia/Saunders ensemble had been very comfortable about letting guests sit in on trumpet, guitar or other instruments. In that respect, the Garcia/Saunders groups were formulated like a jazz band, even though they played rock. Solos were shared, vocals were shared, and membership wasn't absolutely fixed.

Garcia played his last show with the Garcia/Saunders ensemble on July 6, 1975 at Keystone Berkeley. He would actually play a fair number of later shows with Merl Saunders a few years later in Reconstruction, but this phase of the partnership was over.  The ensemble that followed was The Jerry Garcia Band, who officially debuted on September 18, 1975 at Sophie's, in Palo Alto. Sophie's, at 260 S. California Avenue, would later become the Keystone Palo Alto, but at the time it was kind of out-of-the-way, a good place for a new band to get broken in. The new Garcia Band featured Garcia, Kahn, Tutt and pianist Nicky Hopkins. Hopkins was a major rock figure in 1975, having toured with Jeff Beck, Quicksilver and The Rolling Stones, among many others, and having recorded with the Stones, the Beatles and The Who, to name just a few. With the Stones' pianist and Elivs Presley's drummer, The Jerry Garcia Band wasn't just some pickup band.

Apparently, paperwork exists formally establishing Garcia, Kahn, Tutt and Hopkins as partners in the Jerry Garcia Band. I don't believe such a formal arrangement ever existed with Garcia and Saunders; I think they just split up the money evenly at the end of the night. However, in 1975 the Dead were not touring, and Garcia not only needed the cash, he was clearly looking at a solo career as a formal project. Thus in order to get musicians at the level of Tutt and Hopkins, he had to offer them something, and I believe what he had to offer was a partnership. Jerry had the big name, but by making a band out of it, all the participants would benefit. Neither Elvis nor Mick Jagger had offered such a thing to Tutt or Hopkins. From that point of view, the Jerry Garcia Band wasn't designed as a vehicle where players would drop in and out whenever they were otherwise booked. While accommodations would have had to be made for Elvis, history shows that Tutt was serious about the enterprise.

Although we know that Nicky Hopkins debuted with the Jerry Garcia Band on September 18, 1975, one thing I had not contemplated until very recently was their first rehearsal. Now, Garcia didn't like to rehearse, and Hopkins and Tutt didn't need to rehearse much--part of their appeal for Garcia. But Hopkins had never played with Garcia in a formal setting, so there had to have been at least one rehearsal. I'm not even certain where Hopkins lived in 1975, but in any case he normally flew between England, New York and Los Angeles, playing sessions or shows for rock legends of all stripes. Thus a rehearsal, however brief, had to be formally arranged, with plane tickets and someone to pick up Hopkins at the airport.

I am going to propose the following: Garcia had been thinking about the plan to play with Hopkins for some time, and there was a rehearsal of some kind for Garcia, Hopkins and Tutt in July 1975. The rehearsal went well and they agreed to form a band. However, Garcia had some pre-existing dates booked at the Keystone Berkeley for August of 1975, and in any case he needed the cash. Thus I think the Keystone simply had "Jerry Garcia" listed on the calendar and ads, and didn't know who would actually play the August 1975 dates. Garcia probably didn't know, either. Once Garcia rehearsed with Hopkins, he knew he had a band, but he still had some dates to fill, and no desire to cancel them. Thus I think he teamed up with the Keith And Donna band to play the scheduled Jerry Garcia Band dates at the Keystone Berkeley in August. Given that they were playing together, I think Garcia played the booked Keith and Donna dates, too, at the Orphanage and maybe elsewhere. I wouldn't be surprised if Garcia had informally told the Godchauxs that he might play dates with them in August, if he couldn't pull his band together quickly enough.

August 1975 Performances by Jerry Garcia and Keith And Donna
According to my logic, shows attributed to the Jerry Garcia Band would have actually been Keith And Donna with Jerry Garcia. I wouldn't be surprised if Garcia played at the dates booked as Keith And Donna shows, too, although we have no evidence one way or the other, save for the fact that Betty Cantor seems not to have taped them. Based on my previously published history of the Keith And Donna band's performing history, August 1975 looks like this:

Listing for Keith And Donna at The Odyssey Room, Campbell, for August 4, 1975, from the August 1, 1975 edition of the Hayward Daily Review. For the record, the Garcia Brothers were a South Bay club band, and did not feature Tiff and Jerry.
August 4, 1975  Odyssey Room, Sunnyvale Keith and Donna
The Odyssey Room, at 799 El Camino Real in Sunnyvale, was a South Bay saloon, a jumping place that featured local bands and probably sold a lot of drinks. I wonder if Garcia played with them anyway (see notes below)?

August 5, 1975  Keystone Berkeley Jerry Garcia Band
This listing for The Jerry Garcia Band comes from Deadbase, without attribution. Deadbase's source was me. Based on my long ago notes, it appears that this date was from a list compiled by Dennis McNally. For the reasons described below (see August 20-21), I think this was a Keith and Donna show, perhaps with Jerry Garcia playing lead guitar and singing a few songs. Of course, its equally possible that Garcia never played the show, or maybe Keith and Donna took the date by themselves. I'm most inclined towards the latter. If Garcia had promised Freddie Herrera of the Keystone a date, Herrera could have respected the cancellation, but he still had to have a headliner. My guess is that Keith and Donna played, but without Jerry.

A listing from the KG column of The Hayward Daily Review from August 17, 1975. The booking was listed as Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders, but it is highly unlikely that Merl actually played. Keith And Donna played the show, almost certainly, but the question is whether or not Jerry Garcia sat in.
August 18, 1975 Keystone Berkeley Keith and Donna
This show was listed in the Hayward Daily Review as a Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders show. I believe there is another listing where it is displayed as a Keith And Donna show, but I can't pin that down right now.  If this was the first Garcia show with Keith and Donna, a quiet appearance by Jerry might be a safe way for him to get his feet wet with the band, a public rehearsal if you will.

August 20-21, 1975 Great American Music Hall, San Francisco Jerry Garcia Band
The Fremont Argus (up top) lists these Wednesday and Thursday shows at the Great American Music Hall (859 O'Farrell, and still going strong) as The Jerry Garcia Band. In fact, we have a lovely tape of August 20 (I think it is a Betty Board), and Jerry Garcia joins Keith and Donna. He plays lead guitar on all their songs, as well as singing 'Tough Mama" and "How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You." I have to assume the next night was the same configuration. Although the tape is incomplete, the entire group sounds great, and Jerry of course puts it over the top.

Both the August 20 and August 30 tapes feature an unnamed trumpeter. We do know that Hadi Al-Sadoon was listed as a Keith And Donna band member in July, so he seems the most likely suspect. Nonetheless, numerous Garcia tapes in the 1970s feature trumpet players, all unnamed--I wonder if they were the same one? One could postulate the usual Marin suspects--Luis Gasca, Bill Atwood, and so on, but I really don't know. Many of Garcia's band mates are no longer with us, either, so its hard to think who we could ask about that.

August 29-30, 1975 The Orphanage, San Francisco Keith and Donna with Jerry Garcia
The Orphanage, at 807 Montgomery, had been a happening North Beach club about 1973, and was by this time less so. Still, this was a comparatively high profile gig, compared to the likes of The Odyssey Room. The shows were on a Friday and Saturday, and fortunately, a tremendous tape survives of the latter night. Jerry sings some Dylan songs, and may have been trying out his Travis Bean guitar as well.

Keith And Donna Band with Jerry Garcia, Wednesday, August 20, 1975, Great American Music Hall, San Francisco, CA
Donna Godchaux-vocals
Jerry Garcia-lead guitar, vocals
Ray Scott-guitar
Steve Schuster-tenor sax, flute, congas
Hadi Al-Sadoon (?)-trumpet
Keith Godchaux-electric grand and Fender Rhodes piano, vocals
Mike Larscheid-bass
Bill Kreutzmann-drums
The tape I have lists six songs:
Tough Mama
My Love For You
Straight Life
Come See About Me
How Sweet It Is
I am not an expert on tape lineage and set lists, so I won't make a claim for the exact date of the tape. It appears to be the first set of a show. For my purposes, it's enough to assert that it unquestionably represents Jerry Garcia playing with the Keith And Donna Band in Summer 1975.  Amongst the six songs are two sung by Garcia, both 'standards' in the Garcia canon, three that were regularly heard in Keith and Donna's sets, and an epic 25-minute instrumental that appears to be a long version of legendary alto saxophonist Art Pepper's signature song, "Straight Life." Now, I assume "Straight Life" was a regular part of Keith And Donna sets, and in any case I'm not musical enough to insure you that the band was really playing the Pepper tune.

Nonetheless, there's 25 minutes of a rocked up version of some serious jazz, even if someone could make the case that it wasn't "Straight Life." The significance of the inclusion of "Straight Life" lies in the fact that the Jerry Garcia Band with Keith and Donna almost never played instrumentals and stayed far away from formal jazz performances, save for a remarkable rendition of Miles Davis' "So What" on during what may have been the band's final performance.

What does the setlist tell us? First of all, the fact that Garcia led the band through disciplined versions of "Tough Mama" and "How Sweet It Is" means there had to be at least one rehearsal, however brief. Garcia's presence with Keith and Donna was planned, not just a casual drop in, which is part of the basis for my assertion that Garcia was using Keith and Donna to fill in some previously booked dates. Given that Garcia helped make the Keith And Donna album, he might have recalled "My Love For You" and "Showboat." "Come See About Me" was another radio classic, and a player of Garcia's stature could have just comped along and taken his solos. Also, with guitarist Ray Scott in the band, a solid if unspectacular player, Garcia would not have had to remember every rhythmic change, since Scott could cover the basic arrangements, leaving Garcia free to just embellish the music. One rehearsal would clearly have taken care of business, at least for this set.

However, it is the epic jam on "Straight Life" that really sets apart Garcia's August 20, 1975 performance. The Jerry Garcia Band with Keith And Donna had a certain sound, and "Straight Life" has nothing to do with it. "Straight Life" is structured as a modern jazz instrumental, with heads and a body, and the ensemble returning to state the theme just before the next excursion by the soloists. Garcia dominates the soloing, but Steve Schuster's tenor sax, the trumpeter (Hadi Al-Sadoon?) and Keith Godchaux's electric piano all take off for remarkable solos. I had heard jazzy licks from Keith many times in songs like "Playing In The Band," but this is the only time I can think of where he goes into a jazz mode and stays there, and he's a spectacular jazz improviser.

Art Pepper and "Straight Life"
While Garcia and the Keith and Donna band were clearly feeling it that night, working out on a tune as classic as "Straight Life" means it was no accident. Art Pepper (1925-82) was an alto sax player who was a giant of West Coast jazz music in the 1950s, and among the best alto saxophonists of the era after Charlie Parker. Pepper was a true genius, and also a junkie and a hustler, by his own admission. The title of "Straight Life" implies an unalduterated take on life itself (as in 'straight whisky'), rather than any homage to the straight and narrow, since Pepper was anything but.

To my knowledge, the first recording of "Straight Life" was on Pepper's classic 1957 album Art Pepper Meets The Rhythm Section. A wonderful recording, it features Pepper backed by members of Miles Davis's group. According to Pepper, he was broke and strung out, only heard about the session that morning, had no rehearsal, hadn't played in weeks or months, and had to borrow a saxophone. While the actual history is probably more nuanced (Pepper apparently played sessions the preceding week), the basic fact remains that Pepper came into the studio unprepared and in terrible shape. Pepper plays beautifully, however, and the album is a jazz classic.

Pepper's terrible heroin addiction led to a number of stints in prison, ultimately in San Quentin. After getting out of jail in 1964, Pepper hit bottom, his jazz career seemingly over. He ultimately got involved with the recovery group Synanon, and not only got his life back but his career, too, making fine music throughout the 70s until his death in 1982. Memorably, he published an autobiography in 1982, entitled Straight Life. It is a harrowing and fascinating tale of genius, addiction and despair.

There are many books about addiction and redemption, many of them by musicians. However, in contrast to books by the likes of the publicist for The Doors (Wonderland Avenue by Danny Sugarman) or the keyboard player for Three Dog Night (One Is The Loneliest Number by Jimmy Greenspoon)--both
bona fide classics of the genre, by the way--Pepper was a true musical genius, fully aware that for all his failings he towered above his peers musically. Straight Life may be our only unmediated look at the inner life of a drug-addicted musical genius in post WW2 America, not at all an irrelevant footnote for readers of this blog.

Update: a Commenter suggests that the jam is based on Freddie Hubbard's "Straight Life" from his 1970 album of the same name, rather than the Art Pepper composition. If that is the case, it doesn't change my general point, although some of the symmetry of Pepper and Garcia wouldn't resonate. 

Jerry Garcia and "Straight Life"
In 1975, however, while Art Pepper's redemption had been covered in Rolling Stone, he was an active jazz musician and a seeming miracle. By the mid-70s Pepper had re-established his West Coast credentials and renewed his career. Amongst musicians, at any rate, "Straight Life" was not just a jazz standard, but a heavy one. While I assume that Steve Schuster was the one who brought "Straight Life" into the Keith And Donna Band, Garcia plays with brilliance and ferocity, dominating the song for much of its extended length. In what may be the first or second time Garcia played publicly with Keith and Donna Godchaux outside of the Grateful Dead, he leads a jam of the sort that was never seen with the Keith and Donna era Garcia Band, save for the final "So What" in November, 1978.

When Jerry Garcia played with the Keith And Donna Band in 1975, rather than looking forward to the Jerry Garcia Band that would come in 1976, he stayed back in the Saunders-Garcia era that had just ended. While long jazz instrumentals were unheard of in the Jerry Garcia Band, they were practically a nightly occurrence with the Garcia/Saunders band, with songs like "My Funny Valentine" or "Favela." The August 20, 1975 tape is a glimpse of what Garcia and the Godchauxs would have sounded like with the Garcia/Saunders setlist: a Dylan song, some soul covers, a little bit of original material not by Jerry and a big jazz instrumental to anchor the set. Sure, Mike Larscheid was playing bass instead of John Kahn, but that's what it would have sounded like. Any curiousity about Bill Kreutzmann as a jazz drummer can be permanently sated by hearing him drive the soloists with subtlety and power throughout the entire 25 minutes.

Jerry Garcia rarely looked back. He dispensed with the Garcia/Saunders ensembles because he wanted to do something else. Changing Merl Saunders, Sarah Fulcher and Martin Fierro over for Keith and Donna Godchaux and Steve Schuster just wasn't Garcia's style. While the restless desire for change is what set Garcia apart from all his peers, I can't deny that once in a while I wish he wouldn't have been so quick to move on. That, as the saying goes, is life--straight life.


  1. Corry: After listening to this jam, I am sure it is based on 'Straight Life' by Freddie Hubbard from his seminal jazz rock classic of the same name. The album was released in 1970 on CTI records and featured and all-star line-up of Joe Henderson, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, George Benson and Jack DeJohnette. These players were all featured on some of fusions biggest albums and fronted or played in the genre's biggest bands like the Headhunters and the Miles Davis Group.

    I bet Keith and Jerry would have been exposed to all of these guys as they seemed to aspire to play jazz and hang with jazz guys, i.e. Merl, Howard Wales, Gasca, Ornette Coleman and Cobham.

    Check out this LP if you don't have it:


  2. Keats, this is very interesting information. I just saw the title and listened to my old Art Pepper cd, but if you are confident that it's Freddie Hubbard, I would defer to you. Certainly Garcia et al would all have heard of Freddie Hubbard, and CTI albums were easily available. It sounds like a great album--I have Red Clay, but not Straight Life.

    The discovery that they were covering a Freddie Hubbard tune rather than an Art Pepper one doesn't change my overall point, but it does take away a little of the symmetry.

  3. There were other little bits and pieces of Hubbard that popped up in the Saunders era. Martin used to quote Red Clay quite directly during "Expressway To Your Heart", and of course there was "Sunflower".

    I like your overall thesis, that this was a fish with legs ... an intermediate step in the speciation process from Legion of Mary to the JGB.

    The one piece I want to think more on is the booking/billing. This listing at the top of your post, as far as I know, is the first appearance of the phrase "Jerry Garcia Band", anywhere. I have to think that its usage meant that someone in Garcia's orbit (e.g., Steve Parish) had used that very formulation in arranging the date with Freddie. I don't think it's coincidental. That doesn't contradict your point -- it may even support it -- but it's interesting that such a pivotal moment would take the form of a misidentification. That's life too, I guess.

    As an aside, I have tried repeatedly to get into Art Pepper, to no avail. Perhaps I should try some of the earlier stuff, as most of what I have heard seems to be from his later period. Sounds like Straight Life is worth reading.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Here's the sequence of events as I see it

    1.Garcia and Kahn have a rehearsal with Hopkins and Tutt around July '75, and decide to form "The Jerry Garcia Band"

    2. Steve Parrish (or someone) books some Jerry Garcia Band dates at local Bay Area clubs in August '75

    3. Hopkins and/or Tutt are unavailable for those dates

    4. Garcia plays the dates anyway, and uses the Keith And Donna Band because they are available. In retrospect, it would seem that the "brand name" of "The Jerry Garcia Band" was already in play, even though it was (ironically) introduced by Keith and Donna rather than Hopkins

  7. As to Art Pepper, he's sort of an acquired taste. I've never gotten anything from his 70s stuff. I love his 50s stuff, but you have to listen to it with your 50s jazz brain on. The albums I like are Meets The Rhythm Section and Art Pepper Plus Eleven, but I wouldn't recommend them to everyone.

    Of course, it sounds like Freddie Hubbard may have been the bigger influence, and the Art Pepper thing was just a figment of my imagination. The most amazing thing about Pepper is really the autobiography (Straight Life), which is a remarkable document by any standards.

  8. I found this belatedly, but I enjoyed this -- nice job of piecing together this small but important piece of the puzzle. What small evidence we have of this band's doings argues for a reassessment of the kind of pianist Keith was. He clearly had a lot more chops than most deadheads ever think of giving him credit for, and I don't always buy that he was just too wasted to make the best of them.

    fwiw, someone in the band (I agree with you, it's probably Schuster, or the mystery trumpet player) was really into that Freddie Hubbard album: the other big tune on side B, "Mr. Clean" appears earlier in this same show. It would most likely be the trumpet player, given that Hubbard was one of the leading trumpeters in jazz at the time, but it's still remarkable that this group covers essentially the whole of a single Freddie Hubbard album that was 5 years old at this point! [not all, but more like 90% -- the third tune on the album is a much shorter jazz standard that Hubbard takes as a feature spot]

  9. Nick, thanks for the kind words. This post has turned out to be quite remarkable. I was right to note that there was a jazzier side to Keith Godchaux that we all ignored, and thus that the New Orleans feel of the K&D JGB seems to have been at Garcia's direction.

    Yet I completely missed on the main track, thinking it was the Art Pepper tune of the same name. Thanks to commenters, I now know that there were not one but two tracks from the same Freddie Hubbard album. Amazing. I went and bought the cd--how could I not? George Benson plays fine guitar on it, adding yet another twist to the tale.

    Think about it: August 20, 1975, Great American Music Hall--Jerry Garcia, Keith Godchaux and Friends Play The Music Of Freddie Hubbard's 'Straight Life.'

    God, what if it had been a series? Wayne Shorter night, Cannonball Adderley night...

  10. This is such an amazing post out of such a small shard of everything (the 8/20/75 gig).

    Your thesis is that the switch from Merl to Keith and Donna reflected a conscious move away from jazz on Garcia's part. I think that's generally right, but for the Reconstruction interregnum. He didn't play much jazz, publicly, after 1975, making the little he did ("Straight Life" here and "So What" on 11/3/78) so interesting.

    I might reframe the overall switch, though. How about a partial substitution of southern music for northern music? There's a racial graft: it was post-Great Migration black music that he was substantially giving up. He was gaining southern music. New Orleans style was the Booker experiment (I disagree with your description of Godchaux-era JGB as New Orleans style). But then there's black and white gospel stuff that the 1976 band does, instead. So we might think of it as a partial geographic substitution, rather than a stylistic one. Explain "new facts" in that way, possibly.

  11. In my post on Garcia Band in Memphis ( I talked a little bit about how Southern the 1976 JGB was: Kahn born in Memphis, so at least a symbolic connection (I don't know how old he was when he moved to LA), Ronnie Tutt, Donna Jean Godchaux. Keith was from Concord, right? And then Jerry from The City. But the sultry tempos of that band scream "Deep South" in a way that few of Jerry's other bands ever did.

  12. D'oh! I guess it's not that post. Somewhere I have written about that. hmmm ...

    The point remains that we could construe the 1976 era band as the most Southern of Jerry's Bands.

  13. I was just contemplating this show coming one week after the record release GD show from 8/13/75, same room. That was a straight out record industry event. Any chance this might have had a record-company angle, to your mind? They had already signed the UA deal (Selvin reported it on 6/29/75), so I am not sure. I guess I am wondering whether how far the 8/13/75 precedent informs this KDG show, if at all.

    1. I had not considered this date as having any relation to the August 13 Blues For Allah show, but its an interesting prospect. My feeling, however, is the opposite: Garcia felt comfortable at GAMH because he played there a lot in those days, so that's why the Dead used it.

      Keith and Donna nor Jerry had nothing much to promote, nor a budget, so I don't think the Aug 20 show was any more than a club gig.

    2. Yeah, you are right. It's well established the Garcia liked the room from playing it with Merl, and that's why GD used it on 8/13/75. And the timeline doesn't work, either. Just a coincidence.

  14. Check out the September, 2014 issue of Harper's Magazine for a nice essay about Art Pepper's autobiography and his wife Laurie Pepper's as well. Good stuff. Here's a link to the teaser: