Thursday, March 7, 2013

Summer 1972: Pierce Street Annex, San Francisco: Vince Guaraldi/Jerry Garcia/Mike Clark

The cover to the 1969 Warners lp The Eclectic Vince Guaraldi
After Jerry Garcia's death, scholarship on his musical career only increased from its already high level. This was magnified by increased access to the internet, which allowed the entire Grateful Dead community to contribute their pieces of knowledge to Jerry Garcia's history. One of the conventional yet still remarkable things about Jerry Garcia's music was its astonishing breadth. While carrying on a full-time career in the Grateful Dead, Garcia played in a wide variety of groups: country rock with the New Riders Of The Purple Sage, R&B with Merl Saunders, bluegrass with Old And In The Way, honky tonk rock and roll with the Jerry Garcia Band and a slew of famous guest appearances with CSNY and others. There are various blogs focused on continual research in Garcia's career (see here and here), and TheJerrySite acts as an anchor, with an encyclopedic overview of Garcia's performing career.

Thus it seems remarkable that an entire band featuring Jerry Garcia has been missed entirely by historians. Now, I grant, this 'band' only played two or three shows in the Summer of 1972 at a San Francisco fern bar. Yet Garcia was already a bona fide legend by that time, and yet no trace of the performances surfaced until 2012. It is a remarkable testament to Garcia's relentless commitment to expanding his horizons that we are still finding an undiscovered Garcia country 40 years on.

So here it is: in the Summer of 1972, Jerry Garcia played unbilled at a San Francisco fern bar called The Pierce Street Annex, in the Marina District. The other members of the band were pianist Vince Guaraldi, of "Peanuts" fame, drummer Mike Clark, later of the Headhunters, bassist Seward McCain, and tenor saxophonist Vince Denham. The sources for this remarkable bit of missing history are two members of the band, McCain and Clark. Both were regular members of Guaraldi's quartet, and they recalled this part-time excursion. Clark specifically recalls that they only played two or three times, and that they played music in the style of Miles Davis' Bitches Brew album, just unstructured electric jazz jamming.

Sources
2012 saw the publication of the definitive biography of pianist Vince Guaraldi, Vince Guaraldi At The Piano, by Derrick Bang (McFarland and Company) , a fine book that is a must-read for anyone interested in West Coast jazz from the 50s through the 70s. Guaraldi had first become popular with the recording of own "Cast Your Fate To The Wind" in 1962, but he became nationally known when he did the soundtrack for the Peanuts television specials. The Peanuts income put Guaraldi in a position that was fairly unique for a jazz musician--he was financially secure. Guaraldi loved to play live, but he didn't like heavy touring, so from the mid-60s onward he mostly just played in and around the Bay Area. In that respect, Guaraldi had some parallels to Garcia, with Peanuts and the Grateful Dead providing the financial anchors (each with their own Pigpen, of course).

Guaraldi was a fine, versatile musician who had already had a successful career prior to Peanuts, but the TV specials took the pressure off. Guaraldi became friendly with Garcia and the Grateful Dead through his girlfriend Gretchen Katamay, who worked on the management side of Bill Graham Presents. Guaraldi had jammed with the Dead, although nobody remembers when (I think it was during the December 31, 1968 show, at about 3am). Guaraldi had also sat in for Howard Wales one night at the Matrix, on June 22, 1970, so there had been plenty of contact. By the early 70s, however, Guaraldi's records didn't sell that much, and while he was a popular club attraction, his ubiquity created a tendency for music fans to take him for granted. Nonetheless, Bang has done remarkable research in pursuing the different musical paths that Guaraldi too in the 70s, from soundtrack work to traditional jazz to electric fusion excursions.

However, when Bang gets to the Summer of '72, we find out about the hitherto unknown band from bassist Seward McCain, who recalled it in a 2010 interview with Bang (p.268)
The warm summer months also bought a hot--and rather unusual--collaboration.
"Jerry Garcia had apparently taken a hiatus from the Grateful Dead, and was available for the summer, so we played together at The Matrix," McCain recalled.  "It was the Vince Guaraldi/Jerry Garcia Band, so it was a quartet, once a week. There are no recordings, but wow, it was an interesting experience. Jerry played guitar, Mike Clark was on drums, and Vince was into jamming on one and two chord things, which was perfect for Jerry, so he just jammed with us, in his own way.

"We had good crowds; Vince and Jerry together really were a draw. And it was the loudest band I've ever played in. Vince straddled his Fender Rhodes across the tops of two 5-foot 300 watt amplifiers, which faced out diagonally to the audience, on their sides. So he had 600 watts of power blasting out toward the front. Jerry came with an arsenal of amps, and Mike played as strong as any drummer ever did; he was as loud and powerful as Billy Cobham.

"I was there with an electric bass and one bass amp, it was bare survival for me, to keep up with that volume level. It was unbelievably loud."

The weekly sessions continued throughout the summer, and then both Guaraldi and Garcia returned to their separate lives.
When I first read this, I was quite startled, and indeed thrilled, but a few details troubled me. Obviously McCain didn't know that playing outside of the Dead was common practice for Jerry Garcia, and the summer of '72 was exactly when Garcia was most likely to be looking for new ventures. The biggest hangup, however, was McCain's recollection of playing The Matrix, since The Matrix had closed in May 1971. Author Derrick Bang also pointed out that McCain hadn't been in Guaraldi's band when he had played the Matrix, so he couldn't have been recalling a show a few years earlier.

However, this conundrum was solved by drummer Mike Clark. Clark was interviewed by radio journalist and scholar Jake Feinberg in 2011. In the wide-ranging interview Clark recalled (the quote was transcribed by Bang in his concurrent blog post)
At one point, Vince said, I'm gonna to try some electric stuff, so bring a bigger drum set. I said okay. We went to a place on Fillmore Street called the Pierce Street Annex. It was a place where people tried new, experimental stuff. It was Seward McCain on bass, Guaraldi on piano, a tenor player named Vince Denham, myself on drums, and Jerry Garcia played with us a couple of times.
We played music that sort of sounded like Bitches Brew; I don't think he meant it to go in that direction, that's just how it came out. We didn't have any tunes; we just jammed on different grooves.
Obviously there are some differences in the memories of McCain and Clark, as it had been 38 and 39 years, respectively: Clark remembers just a few shows, McCain a whole summer, and Clark recalls a saxophone player that McCain forgot. That vagueness is easily explained away, as the truth is probably in the middle somewhere. For one thing, Denham was a regular member of Guaraldi's band, whether or not he played with them every time. The key point, however, is Clark's recollection of playing The Pierce Street Annex. The Pierce Street Annex was the new name for the old Matrix, so Seward McCain's memory was correct. As far as I am concerned, whatever the precise details, I am confident that the Guaraldi/McCain/Clark/McCain ensemble played Pierce Street Annex more than once, probably both with and without saxophonist Vince Denham.

The Pierce Street Annex
The Pierce Street Annex was a bar near the Matrix. When the Matrix closed, in May '71, the Pierce Street Annex leased the space and renamed it The Pierce Street Annex. I do not know what the street address of the original Pierce Street Annex was, but it seems to have shared a wall with 3138 Fillmore, where the Matrix was located.

The Pierce Street Annex was part of an early wave of San Francisco bars that were known as "Fern Bars," a polite term for upscale watering holes where young professional single men and women could meet and, well, y'know. Of course, men and women had been making new friends at bars since at least World War II, but San Francisco fern bars like the Annex or The Balboa Cafe (just across the street at 3199 Fillmore) were light enough to grow plants, rather than dark and forbidding, and it lent a different air to the proceedings, even if the results might have ultimately been the same. At the same time, gay bars were serving a similar purpose for other people, so San Francisco was a pretty fun place to be in the early 70s.

The Pierce Street Annex was not a music bar, per se. They weren't regularly in the music listings, and music fans did not regular check out the Annex to see who was playing. Thus historians have assumed that no music was played there, because none was advertised in the SF Chronicle. However, they did have music, probably mostly jazz. Since the Matrix was equipped for music, and more importantly, would have had a license for performers, it would have been surprising if the Pierce Street Annex had not taken advantage of it. Even though jazz was not particularly popular in the early 70s, the idea of it implied sophistication, so jazz at an upscale pickup joint made a lot of sense.

Of course, I have to assume that the managers of Pierce Street Annex hired Vince Guaraldi thinking he would play the "Peanuts" theme and that sort of thing. According to McCain--with reference to Vince Guaraldi's concert history--Vince and his band apparently did just that at least a few times.   On these other occasions in question here, however, Annex management were probably thrilled when Jerry Garcia showed up. Of course, when the ensemble launched into some unstructured Bitches Brew jamming, that must have gone on for hours, they probably had second thoughts. Now, according to McCain, they packed the place, although supposedly it was usually packed anyway. Still, I have to wonder--it would be a strange night indeed if you went to Pierce Street Annex hoping to find the San Francisco version of Mary Tyler Moore, and found yourself listening to an earsplitting fusion jazz jam. Oh, well: if Garcia and Mike Clark were jamming, you were already getting really lucky.

(For more about the Pierce Street Annex, see Derrick Bang's post here)

Dates?
The little recognized fact that makes the Garcia/Guaraldi collaboration so likely is that it took place in the Summer of '72. Of course, Deadheads knew that Garcia had not taken a hiatus from the Grateful Dead, as he always had at least one side band throughout the 70s. What was significant about 1972 was that Garcia had no side band at all. John Kahn had gone to Woodstock, NY and joined the Butterfield Blues Band, and he had invited Merl Saunders to join him. As I have detailed at length, there were almost no Garcia/Saunders shows in 1972, save for a two-week window in late June/early July, when Kahn and Saunders seem to have been back in town.

My assumption is that the Vince Guaraldi ensemble would have played on a weeknight. On a weekend, a bar like Pierce Street Annex would be packed, so music would be superflous. On a Wednesday night, say, a little high-end jazz might be an inducement for young urban professionals (the term "yuppie" didn't yet exist) to stop in. So I have been looking at possible Wednesday nights that both Garcia and Guaraldi would be available. However, you can substitute any weeknight and get the same result.

Garcia and Guaraldi Summer 1972  Timeline:
Friday, May 26, 1972: Last Europe '72 Grateful Dead show (Strand Lyceum, London)
Wednesday, May 31, 1972: open
Wednesday, June 7, 1972: Mark Teel's Club Francisco (Vince Guaraldi dropped in to jam)
Wednesday, June 14, 1972: open
Saturday, June 17, 1972 Hollywood Bowl,  Los Angeles (Grateful Dead)
Wednesday, June 21, 1972: open
Wednesday, June 28, 1972: open
Friday, June 30, 1972: Keystone Korner, SF (Garcia/Saunders)
Saturday, July 1, 1972: San Jose Civic Auditorium (Garcia/Saunders)
Wednesday, July 5-Friday, July 14-New Twin Flames, Tucson, AZ (Vince Guaraldi)
Friday-Saturday, July 7-8, 1972, Keystone Korner, SF (Garcia/Saunders)
Sunday, July 16, 1972: Dillon Stadium, Hartford, CT (Grateful Dead)
Monday, July 17, 1972: Gaelic Park, Bronx, NYC (Allman Brothers w/JG as guest)
Tuesday, July 18, 1972: Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City, NJ (Grateful Dead)
Friday-Saturday, July 21-22: Paramount Northwest Theater, Seattle, WA (Grateful Dead)
Tuesday-Wednesday, July 25-26: Paramount Theater, Portland, OR (Grateful Dead)

It doesn't require a Statistics degree to see that Garcia and Guaraldi barely had any shows to play between the end of Europe '72 and the mid-July tour. I have arbitrarily used Wednesday as a marker, but every other weeknight was empty as well, except for those mentioned in bold above. Garcia's only recording during this period was probably with Merl Saunders at Fantasy, for Tom Fogerty's Excalibur album.

Vince Guaraldi's performance history hasn't been as thoroughly researched as Garcia's, but biographer Derrick Bang has done a fine job, and Vince would have been more or less as free as Jerry.  His big booking in the Summer was a two week run in Tucaon, but it still leaves room for gigging with Jerry.

So I think the Garcia/Guaraldi quartet or quintet played a few Wednesdays in June of 1972, or perhaps some other weekday, and perhaps even into early July. Anyone with insights, rumors or foggy memories should Comment or email me. Mike Clark says there is no tape, and although it would have easy to smuggle a tape deck into the Pierce Street Annex, what if you met Her, and she had wrinkled her nose and said "why do you have that little tape recorder?" So we'll just have to dream about it. But what a good dream it will be.

Notes On The Players
Vince Guaraldi would have been a critically important figure in San Francisco jazz without Peanuts, as Bang's book so aptly demonstrates. As a result of the TV specials, however, Guaraldi's name has spread far beyond the usual confines of popular 60's jazz artists, which is a worthy fate for a fine musician. Yet the other players in his band at the time are worthy of a few eighth notes, as well.

The cover of Herbie Hancock's 1974 Columbia album Thrust, featuring Mike Clark on drums
Mike Clark-drums
One characteristic of Jerry Garcia's electric side bands was that the drum chair was usually anchored by players of the highest quality. The best known was probably Ronnie Tutt, who drummed for Elvis Presley as well as the Garcia Band, but players like Bill Vitt, Paul Humphrey, Gregg Errico, Gaylord Birch and David Kemper were well known in professional circles. Indeed, when I tried to make a list of the Top 10 singles that Garcia's drummers had played on, I had to leave off Van Morrison's "Domino" (with 1981 drummer Dauod Shaw).

Mike Clark is no household name, but he is a true drumming titan, like Tutt, Humphrey or the rest of them. Mike Clark initially made his name as a jazz drummer in the Bay Area in the 1960s, based in Oakland. Although he saw himself as a jazz drummer, he would take funk gigs when they came his way, like any true Oakland player. The local Oakland scene had some very low-down funk, that would filter into popular consciousness in the 70s through Tower Of Power and The Pointer Sisters (who had Gaylord Birch as their bandleader).

Clark lived over on East 14th Street, and his roommate was the great bassist Paul Jackson. By 1973, Jackson had been hired by Herbie Hancock, whose music was heading in a more electric direction. Hancock recorded the album Headhunters in '73, with Jackon on bass and drummer Harvey Mason. Headhunters offered a new direction in jazz. Miles Davis had played funked-out, electric jazz on Bitches Brew back in '69, but it was challenging music to listen to. Headhunters was more accessible, yet still serious music, and it would herald an era of funky jazz that was both serious and fun at the same time.

Hancock used to call Jackson at home--it's not like he could call his cell phone--and when he wasn't home, Herbie ended up talking a lot to Mike Clark. Although Hancock was a bona fide jazz legend by 1972, he couldn't pay his band nearly as much as they could make in the studio. As a result, Harvey Mason was not willing to go on tour for the Headhunters album. Fatefully, Hancock asked Jackson if he knew any drummers who could play funk and still jazz it up. When Jackson suggested his roommate, it was the first time Hancock connected the dots and realized Clark's professional pedigree. Clark was on board.

Clark was a killer on stage, of course. He was a great jazz drummer with an Oakland funk beat, and he took the feel of 3rd and Broadway to the jazz world, just as Dave Garibaldi (Tower Of Power) and Gaylord Birch (Pointer Sisters) had done for soul music. Hancock's next album, Thrust, released in 1974, and featuring a Clark tour-de-force on the song "Actual Proof" made Clark's name in jazz circles, far beyond the confines of Bay Area jazz professionals. Hancock's band toured and recorded successfully without him as The Headhunters, and Mike Clark is rightly seen as having helped export funk into jazz. Clark has continued to have a successful career that is still in full swing. The list of players he has worked with is stunning, but now we can add Jerry Garcia to the list.

Vince Denham-saxophones
Vince Denham was a multi-talented reed player who mostly played soprano and tenor saxophone, as far as I know. He was generally based in the Bay Area up until the early 70s, but then seems to have shifted to Southern California. Denham had actually played with Garcia and Vince Guaraldi when Vince had substituted for Howard Wales at the Matrix on June 22, 1970. Denham had also served time with the legendary Don Ellis Orchestra, which was a remarkable ensemble in its own right.

Like many Los Angeles area jazz musicians, Denham seems to have mostly made his living playing rock and pop gigs. Denham was in one of the later lineups of the Loggins and Messina touring band in the mid-70s. Since then, Denham has played key roles in the touring bands of both Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald. Most LA jazz musicians make their living in the studios doing fairly conventional music, thus freeing them to play whatever jazz they like in nightclubs, so I'm sure Denham has played a lot of fine live music, but most of that was probably for comparatively small audiences. Whether Denham played just one or a few nights with Garcia and Guaraldi, he's definitely a peer, even though his name is not widely known.

Seward McCain-bass
Seward McCain had grown up in San Francisco, and had seen and heard Vince Guaraldi many times before he was asked to join Guaraldi's regular group in 1972. McCain had joined Guaraldi during his fusion period and played electric bass, but when Vince went back to a more acoustic style, McCain switched to upright bass. McCain was a regular member of Guaraldi's band up until his death in 1976. McCain played on most or all the Peanuts soundtrack work from 1972 onwards as well.

Vince Guaraldi-piano
Vince Guaraldi had had a great jazz career prior to Peanuts, but Peanuts put him in a unique category. Jazz went through a fallow period in the 1970s, and although Vince was financially insulated, like many 50s and 60s jazzers he was no longer a major attraction, and record companies were not interested in releasing his recordings. His time would have surely come around again, as it did for so many seminal jazz figures, but sadly Vince Guaraldi died of an unexpected heart attack during a break from a gig in Menlo Park, CA, on February 6, 1976. He was 47 years old. As one friend put it, "he loved playing for people. So he was playing at a club, and he took a break...and he died. It may not be the worst way to go" (Bang, p.298). Jerry would have said the same.

Coda: San Francisco, 1972
The 60s in San Francisco were rightly legendary, but the 70s were memorable there as well. As a result of the previous decade, San Francisco's preference for being open and progressive had gone nationwide. Young adults flocked to San Francisco, not to join a band, but to have a nice life. The gay bars and fern bars that seem quaint now were progressive institutions in their time, and they are remembered fondly by people of a certain age. If any of those greying folks have warm memories of the Pierce Street Annex in the early 70s, we have to remember to ask them who was playing music in the bar while they were scoping out the evening's prospects, because there was more than one way to get lucky.

10 comments:

  1. is it phil's book where he talks about guaraldi being friends with pigpen and hanging out at 710 haight till the late hours of the night?

    i *think* either that or the mcnally book mention the possibility of vince having played with some conflagration of dead-family musicians. there's also the distinct possibility that i am confabulating the entire thing in my memory.

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  2. Great post, Corry! I never knew that the Matrix was called the Pierce Street Annex between its first and second incarnations. Bang certainly did a bang-up job on the Guaraldi bio, too! I heartily second your recommendation.

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    1. When the Matrix re-opened in 1973 it was not at the 3138 Fillmore location but at 412 Broadway in North Beach (which was once Tom Donahue's "Mothers").

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  3. Joobie, there's no question that Vince Guaraldi was a friend and colleague of members of the Grateful Dead. That has been confirmed by numerous sources, not least Jerry Garcia, in the Signpost To New Space book.

    Everybody seems to say that Vince jammed with the Dead on occasion, but no one seems to recall when. You can follow back the link above to see my reasoning.

    Vince also subbed for Howard Wales on June 22, 1970, and Vince Denham played soprano that night (along with Bill Champlin on rhythm guitar and Bill Vitt on drums, plus Kahn and Garcia).

    Vince may even be on the back cover of Aoxomoxoa--it's definitely a possibility that the guy with the big mustache is him.

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  4. This is an exciting post - a whole new piece of Garcia history come to light!

    Joobie, I don't think Phil's book mentions Guaraldi. (I don't think Garcia mentions him in the Signpost interview either?)
    McNally's book just says that Guaraldi had visited the Dead at 710 Ashbury back in '66/67, so they went way back.

    Talking about Garcia's Matrix shows, John Kahn said that after Howard Wales split the Matrix scene, "Since it was fun, we decided to get another keyboard guy, and I knew Merl. Vince Guaraldi played for a while. With Merl, we started to learn songs, and developed." [McNally p.398]
    So that would imply that Vince sat in at the Matrix w/ Garcia around Sep '70, in-between Wales & Saunders, though of course it could have been other times as well, as on 6/22/70.

    The question of just when Vince sat in with the Dead has come up before! See the comments here -
    http://lostlivedead.blogspot.com/2010/05/august-14-15-1971-berkeley-community.html
    Just like with this '72 group, seemingly every show where Guaraldi & Garcia played together has been swallowed up by some black hole.
    As this post mentions, it's likely to have happened in '68/69 - Constanten also mentioned it, so it happened during his tenure (same time period) - when Garcia was asked about it in November '71, he said, "Yeah, that was fun - I haven't seen Vince in awhile though."
    Interestingly, both Constanten and McNally (when he was asked about it) said that Vince had "problems" musically interacting with the Dead when he played with them.

    I'd like to know more about Gretchen Katamay, who apparently also worked with the Dead on the office side, in some fashion - whether she worked with Bill Graham first, or Vince met the Dead first, and whether one led to the other.

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    1. According to the book, Katamay and Guaraldi's off and on relationship predated the existence of the Grateful Dead. Vince and Gretchen broke up for good in 1969, when she was working for the Dead. According to her, a Dead manager even helped her move all her things out of Vince's house. Nonetheless, Vince and Gretchen seemed to have remained on good terms.

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  5. More on the summer 1972 angle, but Garcia is billed in a preview for the 63rd Annual Southwest Washington Fair (I believe in Chehalis, WA) for 8/11/72. Garcia was identified in an ex ante preview from July 25th, but the 8/12/72 paper writes about a grandstand performance starring country-western singer Lynn Anderson.

    preview: "Bands, Bands, Bands, Scheduled At Fair," Daily Chronicle (Centralia, WA), July 25, 1972, p. unknown;
    ex post: Atkins, John. 1972. Fair in weekend finale. Daily Chronicle (Centralia, WA), August 12, 1972, p. 1.

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  8. The Pierce Street Annex actually does appear in listings in Night Times and SFC, but it's always the same billing for whatever the house bands were, two of them dividing up the week. I have the address (pre moving to 3138 Fillmore) in some of these listings I have been going through, will try to dig it up.

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