Thursday, July 3, 2014

May 27, 1989 Oakland Coliseum Stadium, Oakland, CA: John Fogerty with Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir (Centerfield)

Time, as Steve Miller has observed, keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping into the future. As we slip forward, we inevitably see things differently. Nonetheless, on occasion it is a healthy exercise to recall events as they appeared at the time, in contrast to how they seem now. The Grateful Dead headlined a Benefit Concert at the Oakland Coliseum Stadium on May 27, 1989. There were many fascinating aspects to this booking, but in retrospect the most fascinating was that former Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman John Fogerty was second on the bill, and it was known before the show that Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir would be part of his backing group.

Creedence had been hugely, titanically popular, but Fogerty had been in a bitter dispute with his record company since the mid-70s, and as a result had refused to play any of his great Creedence songs in concert. By 1989, however, although Fogerty's ire towards Fantasy Records had not subsided, for various reasons he had come to terms with his old songs, so it was widely known that not only would Garcia and Weir be backing Fogerty, but that they would be playing Creedence classics as well. Everything pointed towards an event of historic proportions.

I went to the show, as did about 40,000 of my closest friends. The weather was great, the crowd was nice, the vibe was relaxed, the show ran smoothly and everyone went bonkers for John Fogerty. And yet, and yet, somehow, for Deadheads like me and others, the glow wore off quickly. It was historic to see Fogerty, and unique to see Garcia and Weir play with him, but somehow it seemed like just another rock show. I love Creedence songs, but they are basic, and Garcia and Weir's talents were not particularly needed. Somehow, my memory of that show faded into a lost opportunity, of Garcia playing with a legendary opening act and just comping away.

Yet Deadheads tend to celebrate recordings from "This Day In History," and when May 27 came around, there were some casual reminiscences about the event which caused me to re-think it. It also turned out there is accessible YouTube video of the entire Fogerty set. Seeing the video reminded me of the show, and caused me to think about it the way I thought about it at the time. So watch the video, if you haven't already, and we can think about how the show seemed so bright and exciting at the time, and in many ways genuinely was--regardless of how I feel about it today.

In Concert Against AIDS, Oakland Coliseum Stadium, Oakland, CA, May 27, 1989
Grateful Dead/Special Appearance by John Fogerty/Tracy Chapman/Los Lobos/Joe Satriani/Tower Of Power
It seems shocking today that a Benefit concert for a terrible disease would be seen as a progressive political act, but such was the Reagan 80s. At least in San Francisco, efforts to prevent AIDS and provide care for those suffering from it had finally expanded beyond the gay community into the general culture. Nonetheless it was still significant when major rock bands headlined a large benefit concert in the Bay Area's biggest venue. Concern for AIDS had finally reached parity with Amnesty International and the Rain Forest, which was a welcome thing. The Coliseum benefit was the largest of several events around the Bay Area, all organized by Bill Graham Presents, and meant to raise awareness as well as money.

Originally the Oakland show was supposed to have joint headliners, with both the Grateful Dead and Huey Lewis and The News. A few weeks before the show, however, Huey Lewis had to drop out of the show. Rather sheepishly, his management publicly conceded that the stadium show was cutting into ticket sales for Lewis around Northern California, and they couldn't afford to work for what was effectively nothing. Lewis and The News were popular, and had had a number of big AM hits, but their last album (1988's Small World) had only reached #11, whereas the previous two (1983's Fore and 1986's Sports) had both reached #1. The News had played around the Bay Area a lot, and while they put on a good show, their fans apparently weren't going to see them an infinite number of times.

The Dead, of course, had no such concerns. At a press conference, Jerry Garcia graciously said that Huey had to listen to his management, it was part of the business. Yet the Dead had just played two shows at Stanford's Frost Amphitheatre (May 6-7) and had booked three nights at Shoreline (June 18, 19 and 21)--on weeknights no less--and still packed them all. We take this for granted now, but in the Bay Area it was a public reminder of both how huge the Grateful Dead were and how committed their fan base was. Huey Lewis And The News were the biggest act in the Bay Area at the time with respect to record sales, and yet the Dead outdrew them by several multiples. The Dead were no longer an aging hippie band who hadn't broken up--they were the biggest draw in town.

John Fogerty
I no longer recall the exact sequence of booking, but I think John Fogerty replaced Huey Lewis on the bill. It wasn't entirely necessary, as the Dead sold so many tickets. Still, it was in Bill Graham's interest to make the concert a special event, and Fogerty's presence certainly met that criteria. Fogerty had a unique status in the Bay Area at the time, and everyone was reminded of that when word was unofficially "leaked", I believe through Joel Selvin's Chronicle column, that not only would Garcia and Weir back Fogerty, but that Fogerty would be playing old Creedence songs.

Creedence Clearwater Revival had originally formed in El Cerrito High School in 1959 as The Blue Velvets. The band was a quartet, featuring John Fogerty on lead guitar, his older brother Tom on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, and childhood friends Stu Cook on bass and Doug Clifford on drums. The group soldiered on throughout the 60s, under various names (like The Golliwogs), releasing a few singles and playing numerous shows around Northern California. All four of the band members had various obligations to the military, so although the band always played, they could not participate full time in the San Francisco rock explosion of the mid-60s.

By 1968, however, with John Fogerty's service in the US Army Reserve coming to an end, the band could be all-in. The Golliwogs changed their name to the hipper sounding Creedence Clearwater Revival, and took a Monday night residency at a local rock dive called DenoCarlo's, at 750 Vallejo Street, later better known as the Keystone Korner. Soon the experienced band was playing much bigger shows around town. Their long-time label, Fantasy Records, despite mostly being a jazz label, figured they had something and recorded and released Creedence's first album quickly, releasing it in July 1968. The album got good local FM airplay, and the single "Suzie Q" reached #11.

In January 1969, Creedence Clearwater released the album Bayou Country. When John Fogerty was finally released from US Army Reserve duty, he wrote the song "Proud Mary" to celebrate. That song, along with "Born On The Bayou," began a long run of hits for Creedence. The band was hugely popular on both AM and FM radio, a rarity at the time, they were popular with hippies and servicemen, and the band's Southern flavor--they were all from a tiny town near Berkeley, nothing Southern about El Cerrito--broadened their appeal way beyond the usual bunch of hippies.

Bayou Country reached #7 on the album charts, and until Creedence broke up in 1972, they had 4 more top 10 albums and 10 singles in the top 10 as well. For all the famous bands that came out of the Bay Area in the 60s, Creedence outsold them all, both at the time and later. Yet the band's breakup in 1972 was very bitter, and made more so by lawsuits between John Fogerty and Fantasy Records. Fogerty was primed to have a great post-Creedence career, but his anger over how he felt Fantasy had taken his money caused him to lay very low. Ultimately, Fogerty forewent his Creedence royalties so that he could sign with Warner Brothers, and he had some good hits with them, like 1985's "Centerfield."

When Fogerty finally started touring to support his albums, around 1986, he absolutely refused to play any of his Creedence material, since he didn't want any money to go to Fantasy. At the same time, Fantasy was not interested in promoting Creedence, either, so by mid-80s standards, Creedence Clearwater Revival was somewhat forgotten relative to other classic rock bands. However, when Fogerty played a Vietnam Veteran's Benefit in Landover, MD on July 4, 1987, he apparently had a change of heart and his band played 8 Creedence classics, to the enthusiastic reception of the audience. So while seeing Fogerty perform Creedence songs was rare, it was not entirely unprecedented. It is also possible that some legal matters had been resolved with Fantasy, so Fogerty was freer to do what he wanted, but in any case it made the show far more intriguing.

The Concert
The weather for the Day On The Green concert was perfect. Bill Graham, apparently, had an exclusive arrangement with some greater power, so that it never, ever rained when he was having a major outdoor show, and his deal remained in place for the May '89 AIDS Benefit. Another oddity about the AIDS Benefit was that there were no less than five opening acts for the Grateful Dead, which I think was some kind of record for a Bay Area Grateful Dead show. Although I don't precisely recall, I have good reason to think that we were intentionally late, and only arrived in time to see John Fogerty and the Dead. By 1989, I no longer had any desire to spend 12 hours in the sun, just to wipe myself out for what I wanted to see at the very end.

I don't believe the show was sold out, although I no longer can remember for certain. By 1989, the Dead were huger than ever, thanks to "Touch Of Grey", and I think the Coliseum show was an opportunity for a lot of people who had always wanted to see the Dead but hadn't been been able to get tickets. Frost and Shoreline shows sold out pretty rapidly, so regular rock fans who wanted to see the Dead were out of luck. Thus the crowd was very Dead-positive, with plenty of Deadheads, but far less like the insular club of Deadhead veterans that were characteristic of Bay Area shows at the time.

Johh Fogerty hit the stage in the late afternoon, last up before the Grateful Dead. His band, previously announced, was
John Fogerty-lead guitar, vocals
Jerry Garcia-guitar
Bob Weir-guitar
Randy Jackson-bass
Steve Jordan-drums
Jackson and Jordan were well-known and well regarded as session players. Randy Jackson was a working member of Santana's band at the time, among many other gigs. Today, of course, Jackson is best known as a judge for the TV show American Idol, but that was far in his future. Jordan had played the Bay Area recently, on the 1988 tour with Keith Richards, whose album he had co-produced. Fogerty played 11 songs in about 45 minutes.
Born On The Bayou
Green River
Down On The Corner
Rock And Roll Girl
Proud Mary
Midnight Special
Bad Moon Rising
Fortunate Son
encores with Clarence Clemons-tenor saxophone
Suzie Q
Long Tall Sally
We had pretty good seats, but by definition of having seats, we were pretty far back--behind first base, as I recall. However, there was a big video screen, so we could see what was happening onstage.  I was seeing a lot of rock bands at the time, and I was pretty excited about seeing Fogerty. A lot of bands were doing what amounted to "Legacy" tours, like Pink Floyd and The Who, and I had mixed feelings about them. I had seen Fogerty a few years earlier, next door at the Coliseum Arena, and while he did a good show, the absence of all his great hits left a shadow over the concert.

Unlike some middle-aged rock acts, Fogerty looked healthy and sounded great, probably a function of Fogerty having mostly spent most of the previous 15 years at home with his family instead of grinding it out on the road like The Dead. Nonetheless, it was strange for me in many ways, as it must have been for many fans that were present: here was John Fogerty, a huge rock star, playing a relatively historic show, and here we were obsessing over what his backup guitarist was doing.

Garcia And The Fogertys
Most serious Deadheads knew that Garcia had played with Tom Fogerty, John's brother. Tom had left Creedence in 1970 over various issues, reducing the band to a trio. Merl Saunders had been on Fantasy Records since the mid-60s, and he had known the Fogerty brothers long before they were famous. Since Merl and Jerry regularly hung out at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, at 10th and Parker, the so-called "House That Creedence Built," it was hardly a surprise when Merl had invited his old friend Tom to play guitar alongside of Jerry in 1971. Tom Fogerty had played quite a few shows with Garcia and Saunders, up through late '72, and played on various studio projects with Merl and Jerry as well.

However, by 1971, relations were strained between John Fogerty and Fantasy Records, so it is very unlikely that John Fogerty ever hung out at 10th and Parker. While I assume that John Fogerty and Jerry Garcia had met backstage at some rock festival or something, the Dead and Creedence had hardly ever played shows together. Off the top of my head, I can only think of one indoor show together, a multi-act People's Park Benefit at Winterland on May 28, 1969. In that respect, it was if Garcia and John Fogerty had gone to high school together. They had many shared experiences and mutual friends and nemeses, no doubt, and had--in effect--passed each other in the halls many times, yet hardly knew each other.

Did Garcia Rehearse With John Fogerty?
The question I would most like to have answered about this show is "who rehearsed?" From watching the video, it is clear that John Fogerty had run through the songs with Randy Jackson and Steve Jordan. Now, Creedence songs are delightfully basic, as well as famous worldwide, so pros like Jackson and Jordan hardly needed many takes. On every song, however, Jackson and Jordan both provide a funky bottom and plenty of accent. They knew the tunes, and they knew how to make them swing, so I think they had worked on them with Fogerty.

Jerry Garcia, however, was notorious for never wanting to rehearse. Weir is far less notorious for avoiding rehearsals, though it is also known that he is famously not on time, so it may amount to something similar. Since John Fogerty wasn't particularly close to any members of the Dead, it's clear that Bill Graham was the one who got Garcia and Weir to accompany Fogerty, and in so doing make it "an event," in classic Graham style. Could Graham have persuaded Garcia to rehearse? The alternative is strange, namely playing a show in front of 40,000 people with at least two band members completely flying blind.

Here's what I think, although I am anxious to hear if anyone knows different. Fogerty knows his songs are simple, and assumes that everyone knows them. I think Fogerty had a rehearsal with Jackson and Jordan on a prior day. On the day of the show, I think Garcia and Weir had a dressing room run-through with Fogerty and the rhythm section, agreeing on the tempos and the intros. Sandy Rothman has described how the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band did not really practice songs, they just agreed on an intro and tempo and sang a chorus together. Granted, Rothman, Garcia and David Nelson had played all those songs before, but it was usually twenty years earlier. Still, one chorus run through was sufficient. So I think Fogerty talked Garcia and Weir through the planned songs, but they had never really played together until they got on stage.

Jerry Garcia-Electric Guitar and Backing Vocal
Garcia's appearance with John Fogerty has seemingly receded in importance over the years. Fogerty has been a relatively regular performer, touring with Bruce Springsteen for example, so his mere performance of old Creedence songs is no longer a big deal, just another classic rock guy. Creedence songs have a nice groove, but they aren't jamming platforms, so of course Garcia just plunks away through the entire show, and nothing about his playing at the Coliseum is really memorable.

However, watching the video again, after all these years, caused me to think about the show in a different light. On one hand, Jerry Garcia's health in 1989 was as good as it had been in at least a decade, nor it would ever be that good again. Yet the stunning success of "Touch Of Grey," gratifying as it must have been, insured that the bubble of Garcia's life meant that he was more insulated than ever. Garcia wasn't just a legend to Deadheads, he was in the pantheon now, the biggest rock star in the Bay Area, in a beautiful cage with no escape.

When Fogerty kicks off the familiar, booming riff of "Born On The Bayou," Garcia is tucked back on stage left, next to Steve Jordan's drums. Randy Jackson is on the other side of Jordan, and Weir is right next to Jackson. Although Garcia plays a very simple figure behind Fogerty for "Bayou," his eyes are on Jordan, and Jerry has a big, happy grin on his face. I'm not imagining this--Garcia has a big grin on his face throughout the entire set, and he mugs happily with Jordan as the drummer plays fills and accents through the set. Weir seems to be having the same kind of fun with Randy Jackson over on stage right. Fogerty is the star, front and center, but the band is getting their own groove on behind him.

The Fogerty set isn't a big deal to Deadheads, but it's hard to get around the fact that Garcia is having a great time. Whether Fogerty was "bigger" than Garcia is beside the point. Fogerty is a genuine star, with genuine hits, so he is the center of attention while he is on stage. For any singer less important than Fogerty--as in, just about all of them--Garcia could not hang back, but he can do so here. For 45 minutes, it's like Garcia is at the Keystone Berkeley or something, hanging out with his peers, playing the guitar parts that are dictated by the music, simple though they may be.

When they get to the third song, the unforgettable "Down On The Corner," Jerry is practically jumping up and down. In a small but fascinating moment, he steps up to the mic to sing the backing vocals. Now granted, the whole English speaking world knows that it goes "Down on the corner/Out in the street/Willie and The Poor Boys are playing/Bring a nickel, tap your feet," but Jerry actually steps up to sing. Over the years, I've seen and heard Garcia make lots of guest appearances with various artists. Yet how often did he sing the chorus of other people's hit songs?

After "Down On The Corner," Fogerty introduces the band, and Garcia's back is turned when it is his turn, as he's tuning up. Fogerty says "wake him up!' and Garcia turns around. "On guitar, Jerry Garcia!" Garcia grins and goes back to tuning, and Fogerty says "Genius at work." This is just musicians goofing around, albeit goofing around on stage in front of 40,000 people, but Garcia gets to be just another dude on stage, perhaps for one of the last times. A few months later (August 2, 1989), he would share the stage with Carlos Santana and Ruben Blades but that was for a TV special where he was a featured guest. At the Oakland Coliseum, he's just a hired gun playing a bunch of top 40 songs.

The event is clearly a big deal for Fogerty, as well. He puts on an A's cap, and says what an honor it is to play in his hometown in center field, and then, of course, plays "Centerfield," but Jerry seems to enjoy that too. Garcia joins Weir for the backing vocals for "Proud Mary" and "Midnight Special." Most interestingly, on "Bad Moon Rising," Weir sings the backing vocal, but Garcia does not step up to his mic. Nonetheless, he can be clearly seen mouthing the familiar lyrics, along with every other person in the Oakland Coliseum.

Clarence Clemons joins in for the encore. Bruce Springsteen was the biggest act in the country at the time, and having his chief henchman on stage made the set even more of an event. As a Grateful Dead footnote, I believe this was Clarence's first stage appearance with Garcia [update: my belief was incorrect. Clarence had played with the Grateful Dead on Dec 31 '88, and may have already played with the Garcia Band as well, back in March]. Clarence's second appearance with Garcia would come about 90 minutes later, when he joined the Grateful Dead for much of their first and second set at the Coliseum. Clemons would go on to play a number of shows with the Jerry Garcia Band, but on this May afternoon it was the first most public onstage intersection of Bruce's world with Jerry's.

The Dead played their headline sets later that day, and went on to even greater success. John Fogerty came to grips with his past, and generally speaking Creedence songs played some part in his future shows. Fogerty and the Dead only crossed paths one other time, however, once again and far more tragically engineered by Bill Graham. At the memorial concert in Golden Gate Park for Graham's death, on November 3, 1991, the Dead played the final set. Graham's deal with higher powers was good one last time, and despite being November, the weather was great. John Fogerty joined in for four songs, obviously with no rehearsal, but with plenty of confidence that it would work. The music was nice, but I don't think Jerry was grinning ear to ear this time.

As Deadheads, we always wanted certain things from Jerry. When Garcia didn't give us what we want, we grumbled, and thanks to the magic of tape and digital recording, we can collectively complain about it for decades. Good times! But we have to keep in mind that what we wanted wasn't always what Jerry wanted. For a Memorial Day Saturday, Garcia wanted to be in a band, playing songs the way they were written, singing his parts when they came around, grooving with the drummer and letting the front man do the heavy lifting. Did it ever come around again that Jerry got to play simple, popular songs with a front man with enough gravitational pull so that it wasn't All About Jerry? In that sense, Garcia's role as John Fogerty's backing musician is a last look backwards for Garcia, a time when he could just be in the band, if only for 45 minutes.