|A listing from John L. Wasserman's SF Chronicle column on Monday, December 21, 1970, mentioning the upcoming concert at Winterland on December 23, featuring the "Acoustic Dead" in a benefit for "the Montessori School & The Bear"|
|Upcoming BGP shows from the December 20, 1970 Chronicle|
By 1969, the Fillmore West was famous throughout the world as the hippest place in rock. Although the Summer of Love was long over, hip bands like Santana and Creedence Clearwater Revival still came out of San Francisco and sold millions of albums. However, partially due to the influence of Bill Graham and the Fillmores, rock music had become big business. The Fillmore West, with a capacity of about 2500, was rapidly becoming too small for the various bands that had made the venue famous. The ballroom itself was upstairs from a car dealership (Waters Buick), and the venue had no room for expansion. Late in 1969, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Ralph J. Gleason, an ally of Graham's, put out the word that the building had been sold to the Howard Johnson's hotel chain, and the fabled Fillmore West would be torn down to build a hotel (Gleason dismissively called it an "ice cream stand"). The shrewd Graham, however, after some maneuvering, managed to take control of the nearby Winterland arena in early 1970, giving his company a much larger venue for expansion in the event that the Fillmore West would no longer be available.
Winterland was a cavernous ice palace on Post and Steiner, built in 1928, and two blocks from the old Fillmore. As far back as 1967, Bill Graham had moved events that were too large for the Fillmore or Fillmore West to Winterland. Winterland had a capacity of 5400, and it could easily be configured "Fillmore style" with an open floor and surrounding balconies. Usually, the only other events at Winterland were ice shows, such as the Ice Capades, which came in for a few weeks each year. Back in 1966 and '67, some other promoters had hired out Winterland a few times, but for the time it was a large venue, and usually only Graham had the promotional muscle to get the kind of bands who could fill it. When Graham asserted control of the venue in 1970, that seemed to assure that not only could larger BGP shows be held there, but the threat of closing the Fillmore West would not be catastrophic. It appears that Graham only booked Winterland as he needed to, depending on who was on tour and who was hot. Indirect evidence suggests, however, that Graham had contracted for New Year's Eve 1970 very early in the year, since he knew that he would have a big show there regardless of who exactly played.
Around August of 1970, however, due to some negotiations out of sight of the media, Graham lost the right to promote at Winterland. Graham's chief lieutenant, Paul Baratta, made an agreement with the owners of Winterland that he would book the venue. Baratta promptly started booking major bands in Winterland, apparently paying more than Graham. Not only was Graham ferociously competitive on his own turf, and not only was his own aide-de-camp stealing his thunder, but losing Winterland in light of the sale of the Fillmore West put Bill Graham Presents at serious professional risk. Graham, of course, tried to force all the bands and booking agents to take sides for or against him, and I don't doubt that on the telephone he was apoplectic with rage towards any band playing Winterland. I have to assume, however, that he had already contracted to use Winterland on New Year's Eve, since he had the Grateful Dead headlining there.
"The Acoustic Dead"
Bill Graham Presents, like most rock promoters, had contractual agreements with bands that prevented them from advertising a performance within a certain radius and time prior to the event. Typically, a group like the Grateful Dead, signed to headline at Fillmore West or Winterland, would have been restricted from advertising a show within three weeks or 50 miles of the contracted event, or some similar parameters. Bill Graham was certainly cognizant of the value of bands like the Dead playing free concerts, but those by definition were unadvertised, so they would have created buzz without affecting ticket sales. When the Grateful Dead headlined the 1970 New Year's Eve show, supported only by the then-unknown New Riders of The Purple Sage and Stoneground, it was the first time the Dead had stood atop the bill at Winterland on their own. The Dead had played Winterland many times for Graham, but they had always been paired with another major group, like the Jefferson Airplane or Quicksilver Messenger Service. At the end of 1970, with two popular albums under their belt, the Dead seemed ready to headline by themselves, but it would not have been seen as the sure sellout it would be in later years.
In August, 1970, the Dead had played a few shows as "The Acoustic Dead." The impetus seems to have been that their PA and sound crew were on tour with Tom Donahue's "Medicine Ball Caravan," which the Dead dropped out of at the last minute. The band stayed home and recorded American Beauty, with Steve Barncard producing instead of Bob Matthews. When the Dead chose to play a few shows, they kept it low key and played some shows at the Matrix, San Diego's Community Concourse and the new Thee Club in Los Angeles. Thus, there was some precedent for the band playing in an acoustic configuration under a different name.
Nonetheless, playing a show at the very same venue they would be headlining eight days later under the name "Acoustic Dead" was a pretty sharp poke in Bill Graham's eye. The band also played a gig under the name "Acoustic Dead" at San Rafael's Pepperland two days earlier (December 21). That show was dealt with at length elsewhere, so I won't recap it, but among many other interesting things there seems to have been no pretense whatsoever at the Pepperland show that the Dead were planning to play acoustic, and they didn't. So not only were the Dead playing Winterland eight days before New Year's under the name "Acoustic Dead, " they weren't even playing acoustic. Although there is a nice tape of part of the December 23 Winterland show, I am not aware of a discussion of the peculiar circumstances surrounding it, so I am going to look at the event from the point of view of the Grateful Dead's complex relationship with Bill Graham. Why would the Dead provoke Graham by playing a show that undermined his promotion of them just days before their New Year's show?
Benefit For The Montessori School and The Bear
I am not aware of a poster for the December 23 show. However, by 1970, posters did not play an important role in the promotion of San Francisco rock shows. Bill Graham Presents still created posters for most of their Fillmore West shows, but they served as general promotion (what today would be called "Brand Marketing") rather than playing a critical role in spreading the word about specific shows or acts. The primary form of publicity for rock shows was advertising on music radio, particularly KSAN-fm, and ads and notices in the newspaper, with the San Francisco Chronicle the most prominent regional paper. Rock music was big business in San Francisco, so rock shows were advertised and highlighted in the newspaper like movies or plays.
There were two listings in the San Francisco Chronicle to promote the show. There was a brief mention the Monday before in John L. Wasserman's column, reproduced above. Wasserman had replaced the semi-retired Ralph Gleason in June of 1970. Three days a week he appended his column with a list of upcoming music highlights (rock, jazz and pop) from around the Bay Area, and he mentioned the Dead show on Monday (reproduced up top). On Wednesday, the day of the show, the Chronicle printed a picture of Jorma Kaukonen and had a little blurb, obviously written by the show's promoters. Such a picture and a blurb suggest that someone was talking to the Chronicle on behalf of the show, so it was a form of promotion, if not exactly advertising. Perhaps the Dead were trying to skirt their contract with Graham by not actually 'advertising' their appearance, just promoting it. It can't have gone over well with Bill.
|A photo of Jorma Kaukonen, promting the 'acoustic' Dead and Hot Tuna at Winterland on December 23, 1970|
Jorma Kaukonen, lead guitarist for Jefferson Airplane, is also one-half of Hot Tuna--the duo he and Airplane bassist Jack Casady formed some time ago. Hot Tuna, which specializes in relatively tranquil music and vocals, and has recorded one album, will appear in concert tonight with the "acoustic" Dead, the New Riders of The Purple Sage (an offshoot band of the Grateful Dead), Lizard and other musicians, in a benefit for the Montessori School and The Bear.Montessori Schools were usually pre-schools designed around the developmental ideas of early 20th century Italian educator Maria Montessori, and they had become popular in the 60s. On the surface, this might appear to be a benefit for a local hip pre-school, and perhaps it was. I don't know, however, how wide a swath of hip San Francisco knew that "The Bear" was famed chemist and soundman Owsley Stanley, who was then in great legal jeopardy. While a lot of people must have recognized the name, even the Grateful Dead must have had some trepidation about overtly publicizing a benefit for a recently re-arrested LSD chemist, even if he was ostensibly retired from such businesses. Thus I expect that the Montessori School benefactors were included to sanitize the event somewhat, perhaps by providing a non-profit entity to justify the whole enterprise.
Owsley's Legal History
I am hardly an expert on Owsley's legal history, but it was complex. He had been in trouble with the Federal authorities for some time, and when he was busted down on Bourbon Street, that restricted his ability to travel. There was apparently some sort of pot bust/parole violation at Owsley's house in Oakland as well, although I am not certain whether that was in 1969 or 1970. In any case, it appears that something else had transpired and Owsley needed bail money, based on Jerry Garcia's closing remark "thanks for helping us bail out The Bear." The Grateful Dead were still cash-poor in 1970, so playing shows was the only real way they had of raising money. I suspect that the 'Acoustic Dead' shows at Pepperland and Winterland were emergency fund raisers whose cause justified irritating Bill Graham, at least in the Grateful Dead's eyes.
When Owsley had begun making LSD back in about 1965, one of his principal collaborators had been his girlfriend Melissa Cargill, who had been a chemistry student at UC Berkeley. As far as I know, Cargill was not a partner by the time LSD was made illegal in October 1966. However, I also know that Ms. Cargill became Jack Casady's girlfriend, at least for a while, so the ties between Owsley and the Airplane ran much deeper than may at first be apparent. I don't know if Cargill was still close to Casady in 1970 (as the saying goes, I don't know Jack), but Hot Tuna's presence was not at all a coincidence. At this time, Grace Slick was very pregnant (she would give birth on January 25, 1971), so the Airplane themselves would not have been available.
Bill Graham and The Grateful Dead
By the late 1970s, the Grateful Dead and Bill Graham were the last intact survivors of San Francisco's great rock scene of the 60s. It was in the interests of both parties to romanticize their historic relationship, since the foundational myths of both organizations were deeply rooted in that period. The actual reality of the Dead's relationship to Graham in the 60s was more complex. There seems to be no question that Jerry Garcia and the other members of the band genuinely liked Graham, and appreciated the professionalism with which he ran his shows on both coasts. However, the Grateful Dead were never comfortable with outside entities like promoters and record companies capitalizing on the band's success, and as a result the Dead were always willing to experiment with other business arrangements.
While the Grateful Dead enjoyed playing for Bill Graham at the Fillmore and Chet Helms at the Avalon, in 1968 they started their own ballroom at the Carousel. Thus they became Graham's competitor less than two years after the Fillmore opened. In the 1970s, when Jerry Garcia started playing around seriously with his own bands, his primary venue was Freddie Herrera's Keystone club rather than any Graham venues. None of this was personal, as far as I can tell, but all the evidence suggests that personal friendship aside, the Dead were always looking for a better deal than they thought they could get with Bill Graham. It was only when Graham was the last man standing that the two sides made a permanent peace.
I assume that Graham must have booked the Grateful Dead for New Year's Eve fairly early in the year, probably late summer. Paul Baratta did not take over Winterland until about September 1970, but apparently he was offering bands higher prices than Graham was. It seems that Baratta had booked the Grateful Dead into Winterland for February of 1971. Thus Baratta was not only taking over Graham's largest venue, he was taking a band that was among the most associated with the Fillmore. A big part of Graham's panache came from his self-described narrative as the first and best of rock promoters, so when an upstart took his band in his town, he had to be livid. Thus if the Dead were playing a benefit at Winterland eight days before a Graham show, it may not have mattered so much since they had already infuriated him. From the Dead's point of view, it was just business: they got offered more money by Baratta, because Winterland was bigger than Fillmore West. When they needed a quick fundraiser, they went to Baratta for Winterland, and since they had already pissed off Graham anyway, another sin would not change their status.
Another factor may have been Grateful Dead tour manager Sam Cutler. Sam Cutler had come to the States as the Rolling Stones tour manager in the Fall of 1969. According to Cutler's book You Can't Always Get What You Want (2010: ECW Press, Toronto), the first time he met Graham was onstage at the Oakland Coliseum, prior to the Rolling Stones performance on November 9, 1969. Cutler didn't recognize Graham, and told him to get off the stage, and the two of them ended getting into a fistfight on stage--much to the amusement of the waiting crowd. Mick Jagger took Cutler's side, and according to Cutler, Graham never forgave Cutler (Cutler, p.92 "[Graham] was thoroughly humiliated, and it was something for which he never forgave the Stones or me"). Of course, Cutler subsequently took great delight in trying to best Graham, so it would have been entirely in character for Cutler to recommend using Winterland with the name 'Acoustic Dead' and not even play acoustic, just to irk his nemesis.
Winterland, December 23, 1970
I don't have a lot of information about the concert at Winterland on Wednesday, December 23, 1970. About 40 minutes of the concert survives on tape, and a fine 40 minutes it is. At the end of the set, Garcia says that Hot Tuna will be coming out to do a set, and thanks everyone for "helping us to bail out The Bear." This suggests to me that the Montessori school aspect of the benefit was some sort of cover for the real purpose, although it may have been sincere enough, as various members of the Dead family had young children.
The 44-minute tape that endures appears to be the end of the show:
Me And Bobby McGeeDire WolfGood Lovin' >Drums >Good Lovin'Casey Jones >Uncle John's Band
A commenter on the Archive says that the Dead played about two hours, which seems about right for a 4-band show on a Wednesday night. The commenter also says that Winterland was "deserted," with something like 200 people there. I will remark that Winterland was a dark, cavernous place, and when it was not full it seemed considerably emptier than it probably was. Thus I take the reviewer at his word that the arena was far from filled, but I suspect a fair number of people must have passed through the doors. Still, considering that it was Wednesday before Christmas, I'm not surprised that the hall was hardly packed. However, since the bands, the crew and many of the staff were probably genuinely in support of bailing out Owsley, almost all of the money must have gone straight towards the beneficiaries, unlike at some benefits. I know nothing about the sets by Hot Tuna or the New Riders, nor even who the band 'Lizard' might have been. Needless to say, if anyone knows anything or has a sudden flashback, please post them in the Comments.
|A clip from John Wasserman's Chronicle column on December 28, 1970|
But it happened. The Grateful Dead had a New Year's Eve show booked with Bill Graham for December 31, 1970, and they played the same venue under a different name for their own purposes. It's a miracle the tape survived, since Owsley was probably in jail at the time and the whole thing was just thrown together. Here's to hoping that a few of the people who were lucky enough to see the show still recall something.