Thursday, August 2, 2012

David Nelson and The New Delhi River Band, July 1967-February 1968 (David Nelson IV)


A flyer for the last known New Delhi River Band show, at Cowell College in UC Santa Cruz, on January 27, 1968 (submitted by people who attended)
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 counterpoint 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, the Magic Theater and David Nelson. Anyone with additional information, insights, corrections or recovered memories (real or imagined) is urged to Comment or email me.

Recap: The First Year Of The New Delhi River Band
Part I of the New Delhi River Band story reviews how David Nelson was a bluegrass musician in Palo Alto, just like his friend Jerry Garcia. The arrival of the Beatles and LSD electrified the tiny community of bohemian musicians, and the hitherto acoustic Nelson started to get interested in plugging in. By mid-1966, Nelson and his Channing Avenue housemate Carl Moore had joined forces with a Los Altos band called Bethlehem Exit, and hatched the idea of The Outfit. The Outfit was intended to be a sort of permanent Trips Festival in sleepy little Palo Alto, with a venue, a band and a light show all called The Outfit. According to Nelson, there was only one show, a memorable mini-Acid Test in June 1966 graced by Neal Cassady himself, but the enterprise never got any further. The New Delhi River Band found a name, however, and started to play a few shows in the South Bay, opening for Them and The Doors.

In Part II, The New Delhi River Band found a home in the Fall of 1966 at The Barn in Scotts Valley, a tiny unincorporated community in the Santa Cruz Mountains. 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. The fuzziest and warmest memories of The New Delhi River Band stem from those lucky enough to be part of that tiny scene, when the few long-haired bohemians and some younger aspirants gathered together every weekend in the mountains in one of the earliest Bay Area hippie hangouts beyond San Francisco and Berkeley.

By early 1967, most  of The New Delhi River Band had moved to an old house on Euclid Avenue in East Palo Alto, along with various other denizens of the Channing Avenue house, including Carl Moore and Russell Towle. Nelson lived in the house, and Dave Torbert and John Tomasi were around there pretty much, while the more staid Peter Sulzbach and Chris Herold only dropped by when needed. East Palo Alto was across Highway 101 from Palo Alto, and was unincorporated county land (and San Mateo County at that), relatively sleepy and poor compared to well-to-do Palo Alto proper. The band used the house as a rehearsal space, and they stayed there throughout '67.

The rock market was starting to explode in the Bay Area in 1967, but it was still a collection of local scenes, even if the Fillmore and the Avalon in San Francisco were biggest and most exciting of them. Thanks to constantly playing The Barn, the New Delhi River Band were a popular act in the South Bay. They were booked at a variety of local venues, sometimes as a headliner, and they were very much a leading 'underground' band on their home turf. However, the NDRB had a difficult time breaking out beyond Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. They regularly played free concerts in Berkeley, particularly at Provo Park, so they were somewhat known, but that had transferred into very few paying shows. By the end of June, 1967, the New Delhi River Band had played a benefit at the Fillmore and a free concert in The City as well, but they had no traction in San Francisco, the most lucrative of  the Bay Area scenes.

The New Delhi River Band, July 1967
Sweet John Tomasi-vocals, harmonica
Peter Sultzbach-lead guitar
David Nelson-guitar
Dave Torbert-bass
Chris Herold-drums

By July 1967, the New Delhi River Band had been performing for a year. As they were Palo Alto's second psychedelic blues band, it is worth considering their progress in relation to the first one. Let's take a snapshot of some of the differences and similarities between the Grateful Dead after their first year of existence (July 1966) and the New Delhi River Band after one year.

A Special Genesis: Acid Tests and The Barn
After six months of playing bars and teen dances, the Warlocks wormed their way into Ken Kesey's infamous Acid Tests. With the collaboration of one Owsley Stanley, the Grateful Dead were at least the musical center of an important cultural change, and they were infamous long before they recorded a note.

Although the New Delhi River Band's cultural impact was limited to two counties, they were part of some original bohemian happenings in Palo Alto (at The Outfit) and in Santa Cruz (at The Barn). The Barn was the hippest place in the South Bay at a time when hippies were few and far between, and public events weren't really possible without excessive police interference. The New Delhi River Band were the house band at The Barn, and with Ken Kesey's bus "Furthur" parked out back, they were pretty hip in their own little Universe.

Venues: A Base Of Operations
New bands, particularly new bands playing what at the time was not commercial music, will not endure if they cannot find a place to play. Before the Summer Of Love, almost every rock band that made an impact, even at the local level, had some places to play where they could do their thing and build an audience. Even if they didn't make a lot of money, they made enough to keep going. That is why legendary rock bands are so often associated with a foundational venue, as well: there wouldn't have been the Beatles without the Cavern Club, and vice-versa.

The Grateful Dead, of course, were regulars at The Fillmore Auditorium and the Avalon Ballroom throughout 1966. Along with many other bands, the Dead made their music and made a living, and along with a host of other bands, not only made San Francisco the capital of the music world, however briefly. The Fillmore and the Avalon defined the modern rock concert as we know it today, so an entire industry was established along with the bands that started it. As far as the Grateful Dead were concerned, without the Fillmore and Avalon, the band would not have made enough money to get by, as they were too far outside the mainstream to play what they wanted to play anywhere else.

In the Fall of 1966 and into 1967, the New Delhi River Band regularly played The Barn, and the group built a South Bay following and made enough to keep going. For about six months, The Barn was a self-sustaining operation for all concerned, and there would have been no New Delhi River Band without it. However, by the middle of 1967, the rock market had exploded, in a large part due to the Fillmore scene. The Barn closed due to pressure from its neighbors, and the New Delhi River Band lost their base. Although the NDRB were popular in the South Bay, more fans wanted to see the big Fillmore bands come to their town, rather than see their locals. Thus New Delhi River Band bookings became fewer and less lucrative, in part due to the increasing impact of Fillmore bands like the Dead.

Music: Jamming The Blues
From what we know of the New Delhi River Band's repertoire, they played straight ahead blues songs and some funky R&B songs like "Youngblood" and "Suzie Q." Memories are foggy, of course, but it seems like they had their own arrangements and didn't rush through the songs. The material that the New Delhi River Band were mining in mid-1967 was roughly from the same vein that the Grateful Dead were pulling from: music from black radio stations in the early 60s. The NDRB's business card said "We Jumps," so they were definitely trying to be fun to dance to, not just purists.

However, by mid-1966, at the end of their first year, the Grateful Dead were experimenting with numerous original songs. In fact, they had worked up a handful of original songs after their first six months, as we know from a November, 1965 demo tape.. In fact, only one original song from the Dead's first year survived even into 1967, namely "Caution: Do Not Stop On Tracks" and that was a sort of mutant version of Them's "Mystic Eyes." Nonetheless, the Dead were experimenting with songwriting from the very beginning. It took a while to get it right, not to mention the arrival of Robert Hunter, but the Dead were working on it from the beginning. In contrast, there's scant evidence that the New Delhi River Band had any original material beyond some instrumental jam-type numbers.

Management: Working The Phones
Early in their career, the Grateful Dead had found a patron in the notorious Owsley. Owsley thought big, really big, and he did things his own way. Garcia and Phil Lesh in particular were sympathetic to Owsley's self-directed vision of success, even if they did not individually subscribe to all his ideas. On a less dramatic scale, David Nelson's friend Carl Moore had tried to start a venue in Palo Alto called The Outfit, for which the proto-NDRB were to be the band. Although the venture only seems to have had one event in June, 1966, it put the New Delhi crew on a different path far earlier than their peers. Moore continued to be a useful influence throughout 1967.

However, after Owsley stepped aside from the Grateful Dead, fellow travelers Rock Scully and Danny Rifkin acted as managers. Rather than being "10-percenters" like the traditional Hollywood managers, Rock and Danny were part of the collective consciousness of the band. While the Dead rehearsed and played, Rock and Danny worked the phones, looking for the next booking. For a busy, ambitious band, whether hip or unhip, trusted managers who could focus on finding paying gigs was crucial for success.

According to David Nelson, however (via David Gans), the New Delhi River Band arranged and booked their own shows. That insured that no one ripped them off, but it also meant that all the band members were wearing multiple hats. To some extent, the paucity of NDRB bookings may have been partially due to the fact that they had no dedicated manager. In mid-1967, the New Delhi River Band had a name as a hip band around the Bay Area, even if not that many people had heard the band. A hustling manager could have worked the phones enough to find some gigs, and the musicians could have done enough by playing well. The New Delhi River Band had no such assistance, however, and so their world of contacts was limited.

Recordings
The Grateful Dead made their first studio recordings in November, 1965, before they were even the Grateful Dead. They had made a six-song demo for Tom Donahue's Autumn Records (the 'Emergency Crew' demo). Five of the six songs were original. In June of 1966, the Dead had recorded a single ("Don't Ease Me In"/"Stealin'") at a San Francisco studio.

The New Delhi River Band had also recorded during their first year, some time in 1967, although the exact date remains uncertain. David Nelson told me (when I spoke to him after a New Riders show) that the band recorded 15 or 16 songs in 1967 in "some guy's garage in Berkeley." There was a garage studio in Berkeley, known--I think--as Reggie's Guerage, but I don't recall Reggie's full name. I know that Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, among others, recorded a demo in the same garage. I believe the Masked Marauders album was recorded there as well.

Nelson promised me that he never throws anything out, so we may yet be lucky enough to hear the New Delhi River Band, perhaps on some Grateful Dead Marathon on KPFA.  Still, from what little I can piece together, the NDRB were regarded as a fine live band without much in the way of original material. Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead got over the hump by engaging Robert Hunter as their in-house lyricist. Hunter had to return from a difficult situation in New Mexico to join up with the Dead, but he had contacted Carl Moore who sent him a little money to get him home.

Ironically enough, an eyewitness recalls a much-worse-for-wear Hunter sleeping on the couch at the New Delhi River Band house on Euclid Avenue, waiting for the Dead to fetch him. Legend has it that Phil Lesh drove to Palo Alto (technically, East Palo Alto) to pick up Hunter and return back to Rio Nido, where Hunter wrote "Dark Star" shortly afterwards. I have to wonder: while Hunter was hanging out with his old pal Nelson, did either of them consider the idea that Hunter could have written songs for the New Delhi River Band as well? It would not have inherently interfered with the Dead's plans, and the history of the New Delhi River Band would have been very different indeed.

New Delhi River Band Performance History, July 1967-February 1968
Despite my diligence, I have only been able to uncover a smattering of performance dates by the New Delhi River Band in their final 7 months. I feel confident that there were quite a few more, but I have not yet been able to find them. Anyone with any additional information or recovered memories (real or imagined) is encouraged to Comment or email me.

July 9, 1967: The Steppenwolf, Berkeley, CA: County Joe and The Fish/Loading Zone/New Delhi River Band/Notes From The Underground
The Steppenwolf was a folk club at 2136 San Pablo Avenue. This was probably a benefit, as Country Joe and The Fish had long since graduated to being a Fillmore headliner, and either Loading Zone or Notes From The Underground (both East Bay groups) could have topped the bill at the modest club on their own. Once again, the New Delhi River Band was playing Berkeley effectively for free. Plenty of Berkeley rock fans had heard them, but the band hadn't really made any money out of it.

July 15 and 16, 1967:  Devonshire Meadows Raceway, Cal State Northridge, Northridge, CA  Fantasy Fayre and Magic Music Festival
Saturday, July 15 running order (10:00am-8:00pm): Second Coming/Kaleidoscope/Whirling Dervishes/Doors/Solid State/Iron Butterfly/Grass Roots/New Delhi River Band/Thorinshield/Kaliedoscope/Solid State/The Factory/[unknown]/The Groupies
Sunday, July 16 running order (10:00am-8:00pm): Solid Sate/Humane Society/Sunshine Company/Butterfield Blues Band/Country Joe And The Fish/Heather Stones/New Delhi River Band/ Jefferson Airplane/Thorinshield/Sunshine Company/Merry Go Round/Canned Heat/Solid State
To my knowledge, the New Delhi River Band only made two road trips outside of the Bay Area. One of them was to Southern California, for the "Fantasy Fayre" at Devonshire Meadows. There had been a similarly named event in Northern California the month before, on Mt. Tamalpais (June 10-11, 1967) and the NDRB had played in the parking lot. I assume there was a connection between the two events. Presumably the NDRB had played well enough to get added to the Southern California shows.

Some major bands headlined the festival. The actual acts who played were different than who was booked, as The Mothers Of Invention, among others, were advertised but did not play. However, the running order is known from a photograph at the festival grounds. The New Delhi River Band played both days. On Saturday (July 15), they were booked at 4:45, after The Grass Roots and before Thorinshield. On Sunday (July 16), the NDRB were booked at 2:30pm, after Heather Stones and just before the Jefferson Airplane. All acts, including the big names, were scheduled 45 minutes apart, so sets would have been short. Who actually played, and for how long, remains somewhat obscure.

Summer 1967: [unknown venue], Vancouver, BC: New Delhi River Band
David Nelson told David Gans that the New Delhi River Band made their longest road trip in the Summer of '67, in Nelson's '62 Chevy station wagon. All five band members plus John Tomasi's girlfriend made the trip. I know quite a lot about the booming 60s Vancouver rock scene, but I haven't yet found a trace of the New Delhi River Band. However, there was a lot of Bay Area bands that got booked in Vancouver, particularly from Berkeley, so it's not at all surprising that a locally popular but unsigned Bay Area band played around Vancouver.

Nelson recalled that they went to "Queen Elizabeth Island in Vancouver, " which can't be quite right. The actual Queen Elizabeth Islands are much farther North. However, there are numerous parks and buildings in Canada named after English royalty, for obvious reasons, and there are also islands and promontories in Vancouver, so I am assuming that Nelson's memory is about 2/3 correct, I'm just not sure which third is muddled (Update: a fellow traveler surfaced, and he recalled that the main venue couldn't find the money to pay the band, so they didn't play the gig. However, the group did play University of British of Columbia and Simon Fraser University, presumably at some casual student dances).

While I don't have any date for the Vancouver expedition, the entire adventure must have taken at least a week, so the late July/early August period provides a good window. One thing to note was that if the trip took a week or more, since the band were booking themselves, they could not have made many phone calls on their own behalf to book shows while on the road. Thus, a few weeks after they returned, they would have found their calendar fairly empty. This illustrates one of the pitfalls of bands who booked themselves, particularly back in the 1960s. Even if they completed a phone call, how would they leave a callback number? Its not a surprise to see the New Delhi River Band's gig sheet thinning out as the Summer of 1967 ended.
 
A poster for the New Delhi River Band show at Azteca Hall in San Jose on August 25, 1967
August 25, 1967: Azteca Hall, San Jose, CA:  New Delhi River Band/Weird Herald/Ohms Band/Warriors of The Rainbow
Azteca Hall was at E. San Antonio and S. 24th St, not far from where Highway 101 meets Interstate 280 today. I don't know anything else about it, but it probably wasn't too big. This sort of show was where the New Delhi River Band had a following. The NDRB were a known quantity in the tiny South Bay underground, so they could headline a concert in San Jose, albeit a modest one.

Weird Herald were a legendary San Jose band that featured guitarists Billy Dean Andrus and Paul Ziegler, along with bassist Cecil Bollinger and drummer Pat McIntyre. Both Andrus and Ziegler were old friends of Jorma Kaukonen’s from his South Bay folkie days.  Ziegler was briefly in the electric Hot Tuna around 1970.  Andrus was a true South Bay legend, and when he died unexpectedly in November 1970 it upset all his friends greatly: Jorma wrote "Ode For Billy Dean," and another old friend, Pat Simmons of The Doobie Brothers, wrote "Black Water" for and about him. Weird Herald only released one obscure single, but they did record an unreleased album, and having heard a few tracks I can assure you their legendary reputation had some basis in fact.

Warriors of The Rainbow were another band of ex-San Jose State folkies, featuring guitarist Page Brownton, who is still performing in the Santa Cruz Mountains today, as far as I know. The Ohms Band is a mystery, even to me.

Robert Hunter would have arrived in East Palo Alto right around this time. The Grateful Dead were playing in Lake Tahoe this weekend, but I believe Phil Lesh would have picked up Hunter on Euclid Avenue shortly afterwards.

A poster for the planned show at the football field at Cabrillo College in Santa Cruz County on September 2-3, 1967. There is no evidence that the shows ever took place, sad to say.
September 2-3, 1967:  Cabrillo College Stadium, Cabrillo Junior College, Santa Cruz, CA
Benefit for SCA at Santa Cruz [canceled]
Grateful Dead/Canned Heat/The Leaves/Andrew Staples/Sons of Champlain (sic)/New Delhi River Band/Second Coming/New Breed/Butterfield Blues Band/Gross Exaggeration/Yajahla/Tingle Guild/People/Jaguars/Art Collection/Morning Glory/Ben Frank’s Electric Band/New Frontier/Chocolate Watch Band/The Other Side/E-Types/Mourning Reign/Imperial Mange Remedy/Omens/Ragged Staff/Talon Wedge & Others.
This was scheduled as a two-day event on the Saturday and Sunday of Labor Day weekend. Cabrillo College is a Junior College about six miles from the UCSC Campus, with a view that would be the envy of a million dollar resort. The event is widely known because the poster appears in Paul Grushkin's book The Art Of Rock.

However, I looked into the subject at some length, and there's no evidence that the event actually occurred. I talked to numerous old South Bay rockers who wouldn't have missed it, and even someone who was in a band that was booked at the show (the E-Types) and not a one recalled anything about it. It's impossible to prove a negative, but I have to believe this event was planned and then got scuttled by finances or the powers-that-be.

In theory, the Grateful Dead would have played Cabrillo on Saturday, September 2, because they were playing Rio Nido on Sunday (September 3). Remember that with Labor Day weekend, Sunday would have been like Saturday night, and shows could have run late. Most chronologies have the Dead at Cabrillo, but I don't think they, or anyone, was there. It's too bad. For one thing, it would have been a chance for the New Delhi River Band to play with the Grateful Dead, but this never occurred. More intriguingly, if the Dead had played, they would have bought Hunter along, and perhaps having already accepted the offer to be Garcia's co-writer, perhaps Hunter would have considered the possibility of writing with Nelson, but that too was not to be.

A poster for Moby Grape and the The New Delhi River Band at the Continental Ballroom in Santa Clara on September 15-16, 1967. Note the odd spelling of NDRB (thanks to Colin for the scan).
September 15-16, 1967: Continental Ballroom, Santa Clara, CA:  Moby Grape/Nu Delhi River Band/Om
The Continental Ballroom was San Jose's leading rock venue, although it was actually in the nearby town of Santa Clara, at 1600 Martin Avenue. All of the major San Francisco bands played there, albeit for a variety of different promoters. Moby Grape was riding quite high at this time, soon after the release of their debut album, and the shows were probably well attended. Why, exactly, the New Delhi River Band's name was misspelled on the poster is a mystery, but I assume it was an intentional one. I assume the opening act 'Om' was the same as The Ohms Band who had played at Azteca Hall the month before.

September 17, 1967: Provo Park, Berkeley, CA: Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band/New Delhi River Band/Strawberry Window
The New Delhi River Band played yet another Sunday at Provo Park, with Berkeley's own Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band and the Strawberry Window, from San Leandro.

September 21, 1967 El Camino Park, Palo Alto, CA Steve Miller Band/Blue Cheer/New Delhi River Band
Palo Alto had a series of Be-Ins at El Camino Park, the city's first downtown park. The Grateful Dead had played one on June 24, and unlike most cities Palo Alto continued to have free concerts in the park all the way through the Summer of 1968. This Thursday afternoon Be-In was produced by the Mid-Peninsula Free University (or "Free You" as it was known), yet another one of those South Bay stories that's too much of a tangent to explain. At this time, all three of the acts were popular locally, but none of them had a record. Blue Cheer went on to a certain kind of infamy, and the Steve Miller Band, along with rhythm guitarist Boz Scaggs, went on to huge success. Yet the New Delhi River Band, somewhat on a par with these groups at the time, has slipped into total obscurity outside of my blog.

A flyer for the New Delhi River Band's show at The Bold Knight in Sunnyvale. Once again, note a variant spelling for the band's name--I don't think these were accidents
September 22, 1967 The Bold Knight, Sunnyvale, CA New Delhi River Band/The Art Collective
The NDRB were still popular in the South Bay. The Bold Knight was one of the best paying gigs in the area. On this September weekend, the NDRB played a free concert Thursday in Palo Alto, a well paid show in San Jose on Friday, and a San Francisco show on Saturday where they may not have made much money at all. That pretty well summed up the NDRB's career.

A poster for the New Delhi River Band's performance at the Western Front on September 23, 1967 (thanks to Ross for the scan)
September 23, 1967: The Western Front, San Francisco, CA: New Delhi River Band/Mad River/The Other Half
The Western Front was an obscure concert venue at 895 O'Farrell (at Polk), just 4 blocks from San Francisco's run-down Tenderloin District. The venue was a former car dealership. Like many such venues, it has a vague, murky history, which I have done my best to sort out. After a dramatic opening weekend around July 4 of 1967, it closed for over two months, due apparently to the lack of a dance permit. The New Delhi River Band played the second night of their re-opening weekend.

The bands on the bill were very hip: Mad River had relocated to Berkeley from Ohio, and are widely revered today as being far ahead of their time, although they were merely strange back then. The Other Half have also become popular in collector's circles, with the great guitarist Randy Holden. However, I have never read an eyewitness account, much less a review of any Western Front show, and despite being one of the NDRB's few bookings in the city, it can't have led to much.

The building that housed the Western Front is just two doors down from the Great American Music Hall. 895 O'Farrell now houses the notorious Mitchell Brothers Cinema (don't google it at work).

>Fall, 1967 Fraternity Row, Berkeley New Delhi River Band
An eyewitness remembers a trip to Berkeley where the group played a hall overlooking ‘Fraternity Row’ in Berkeley. This could have been any number of smaller buildings. In fact, Frat Row at the time was moving from Northside (Euclid Ave and Hearst St) to Southside (Piedmont Ave and Warring St), so I'm not even sure which side of campus it would have been on.

Fall, 1967 Peninsula School, Menlo Park, CA
Peninsula School is a legendary Menlo Park instituion, a K-8 school founded in 1925 on Quaker principles. It was very popular with progressives prior to and during the 1960s (not to mention afterwards), and it was the kind of place where kindergartners addressed their teachers by their first name. Jerry Garcia and Bob Hunter played their first paying gig at Peninsula in 1961, and the school has been intertwined with Grateful Dead history ever since. Alumni of the school include John Dawson, Bob Matthews, Steve Marcus and me. Jerry Garcia's first wife Sara worked there at one point, as well.

There was a fundraiser type rock concert at Peninsula in the Fall of 1967 for Pacific High School, and a then-student thinks that the New Delhi River Band may have been present. Given the social circles, this seems like a very likely possibility. Pacific High School is another of those 60s South Bay tangents that cannot be summarized easily. Pacific was sort of conceived as the High School successor for Peninsula School graduates. Suffice to say, students calling teachers by their first name was just the starting point.

From the Fall of 1967 onwards, it gets harder and harder to find any evidence of the New Delhi River Band performing. There were more and more rock shows around the Bay Area, but as the underground and commercial scenes started to merge, as Fillmore music started to appeal out in the suburbs, not every band made the transition. I think the New Delhi River Band's lack of formal management meant that they didn't have any entree into the universe of booking agents and promoters that lead to paying shows. Without any recording opportunities on the horizon, the band seems to have just slowly ground to a halt.

November 7, 1967: Rancho Diablo, La Honda, CA: New Delhi River Band/Black Shit Puppy Farm
This was more of a party than a gig. This was actually a birthday party for a popular student at Pacific High School (the date was inferred from a friend who recalls her birth date).

The friends of the birthday girl lived at a La Honda Road commune known as Rancho Diablo. Rancho Diablo had been the location of the commune that housed the group Anonymous Artists of America, who had to some extent succeeded the Merry Pranksters and taken over their equipment, including Ron Boise’s ‘Thunder Machine.” However, the AAA commune had moved out mid-year and others had moved in. Many of the others were former or current Pacific High School students who later became known as the Black Shit Puppy Farm, which was both a light show and a rock band, depending on the gig. The band was named after the commune dog, a Black Lab named Arnold.  The lead guitarist of BSPF remembers this birthday party event with the NDRB, as it was one of their first public performances.

November 22, 1967: The Bold Knight, Sunnyvale, CA: Heatherstone/New Delhi River Band/Bogus Thunder/Art Collection
The Bold Knight usually only put on shows on Friday nights. However, the audience was primarily teenagers, so the Wednesday before Thanksgiving was like a Friday to them. The NDRB played along with some other South Bay stalwarts. Bogus Thunder (is that a 60s name or what?) were connected to groups like The Chocolate Watch Band and The Other Side, and The Art Collection, though a South Bay band, were fronted by New Zealand singer Ray Columbus. Heatherstone, sometimes billed as Heather Stone, are familiar to me from old flyers, but I don't know anything about them.

December 17, 1967: The Steppenwolf, Berkeley, CA: Mad River/New Delhi River Band/Lincoln’s Promise/Sky Blue
I have a suspicion that this show was another benefit, since Mad River could have filled the tiny place by themselves, and their was hardly a need for four groups if they were all expecting to get paid. This was a comparatively early show by the Berkeley group Sky Blue.

January 5, 1968: The Bold Knight, Sunnyvale, CA: New Delhi/Blueberry Jam/Steve Jenkins Group
The Bold Knight was a well paying booking in the South Bay, as the shows were held on Friday nights in a restaurant ballroom that could include up to 1000 patrons. Since no drinks were served, it was accessible to the many young people with cars in the South Bay. If the NDRB could still headline the Bold Knight in early 1968, they definitely had a following in the South Bay. Yet they had been headlining the Bold Knight six months earlier, and they had gotten no further in other markets. According to Nelson, around this time the New Delhi River Band simply stopped playing, without really breaking up.

According to a 1977 interview with Kingfish leader Matt Kelly in the English fanzine Dark Star, Kelly's group St. Matthews Blues Band had opened for the New Delhi River Band sometime in late 1967, although I have been unable to determine exactly when or where. Kelly said that he took to jamming regularly with the NDRB so regularly that he became a member of the group. This too has been hard to pin down, but it must have been around this time [update: Kelly told me he was never actually a member of the New Delhi River Band, and did not start jamming with some of the members until after they broke up]

I know the name of the woman in the poster, and I know that the cat belonged to one of her roommates. Her roommate, however, can no longer remember whether the cat in the modified photo was "Fear" or "Trembling." Research continues.
January 27, 1968: Cowell College Dining Commons, UCSC, Santa Cruz: New Delhi River Band/Living Color
The last trace of a New Delhi River Band performance that I have been able to find was a Satruday night show at the Cowell College Dining Commons, at the newly opened University of California at Santa Cruz. The Cowell Dining Commons is within walking distance of the McHenry Library, the site of the Grateful Dead Archive. A very nice copy of the poster endures (thanks to Queenie, Kindy and Georgiana). It's uncertain if Kelly had joined the band by this time, but the NDRB fully evaporated shortly after this, whether or not Cowell was truly their last performance, which it very well may have been.

Aftermath
In the Dark Star interview, Kelly recalled that David Nelson and John Tomasi left soon after Kelly joined. Peter Sultzbach soon followed. He and Nelson were replaced by guitarists Ryan Brandenburg and Tim Abbott, another Palo Altan from various groups including The Good News, from whence Torbert and Herold had come. Abbott had also had a stint in San Jose's great Chocolate Watch Band.. Around this time the band changed its name to Shango. Kelly recalls that the biggest gig Shango did was headlining a wake for Neal Cassady at Big Sur (on March 21-23, 1968), a weekend show attended by as many as 4000 people. Shango led to Horses, but then that group too disintegrated. I will tell the whole story of the subsequent adventures of the band members, but for now a brief survey will have to suffice.

David Nelson went to ground after the New Delhi River Band, surfacing several months later with old friends like Jerry Garcia and Peter Albin. After playing some bluegrass and almost joining Big Brother and The Holding Company, he joined Garcia and John Dawson in the band that became The New Riders Of The Purple Sage. He still leads the group.

Dave Torbert went to Hawaii after 1968 to go surfing. In early 1970, Torbert was on his way to England to join Matt Kelly in Gospel Oak, when he 'coincidentally' received a call at his parent's house from John Dawson, who invited him to join the New Riders. After a few fine years and five albums with the Riders, Torbert and Kelly finally teamed up in the band that would become Kingfish. Torbert died of long-standing health issues in 1982.

Sweet John Tomasi remains the most elusive of the New Delhi River Band members. For the next few years, he performed periodically as the singer for the groups Mountain Current and Lonesome Janet (with Matthew Kelly and Chris Herold), but his subsequent activities remain obscure. Hopefully he is well and well-off somewhere.

Chris Herold managed avoided the draft as a Conscientious Objector. However, he was obligated to other service, in his case driving a hospital truck from 1969-71. As a result he could only play on weekends. He played in an apparently excellent Santa Cruz Mountains band called Mountain Current, but they only played the local haunts. I have always thought that when the drum chair for the New Riders opened up in late 1970, with the departure of Mickey Hart, Torbert and Nelson would have liked to get Herold into it, but it would have been impossible. With the initial demise of Kingfish in 1976, Herold seems to have stopped playing music professionally, although every few years he seems to have sat in with Kingfish for a song or two. Herold is now a widely respected writer of Haikus.

Peter Sultzbach joined Linda Tillery's band after NDRB broke up. Tillery had been in The Loading Zone, with whom NDRB had shared the stage many times at Provo Park, so I assume that was the initial connection. In 1968-69, Columbia was trying to make her a star as 'Sweet Linda Devine.' Ultimately she returned to the Loading Zone. Loading Zone, a fine band, faded away after 1972. However, they had shared management and rehearsal space with Oakland's finest, Tower Of Power. Sultzbach became Tower's road manager, and a google search of his name will turn it up on the credits to some of their albums. Sadly, Sultzbach died of cancer in 1981, far too young, fondly remembered by his friends.

The New Delhi River Band lived on, however faintly, when Nelson and Dawson's pre-New Riders history was ever alluded to. They were never huge, but they were big in their county. Still, being Palo Alto's second psychedelic blues band didn't quite have the impact of being the first one. Hopefully Nelson will rescue their demo tape from his garage, and some South Bay grandparents can have a long awaited flashback or two.

5 comments:

  1. Re: "The Other Half have also become popular in collector's circles, and even though this was the final version with Craig Tarwater on guitar instead of Randy Holden, they still must have been good"

    Craig Tarwater NEVER played with The Other Half. This is only an old rock urban myth. Randy Holden was still in the band for the gig with The New Dehli River Band in Sept. 1967. He left the band only in the Spring of 1968 and his replacement on lead guitar wasn't Craig but a guy that no one remember the name!

    ReplyDelete
  2. The Breed's Timothy B. Schmit website has the Cabrillo College dates listed.
    http://www.angelfire.com/rock3/deliverin/Schmit/TimConcerts.htm

    ReplyDelete
  3. Lots of chronologies list the date, because the compiler saw the poster in Grushkin's Art Of Rock book. I just don't think there's any evidence the show actually happened.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Peter Sultzbach did not die in 1979. He died in July 1981. I was with him at the time of his death.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for this information. I updated the post. He had been the road manager of Tower Of Power for much of the seventies, right?

      Delete