|A poster for the March 11, 1968 show at Sacramento Memorial Auditorium with Cream and The Grateful Dead.|
While the Dead benefited from Cream's general effect on the music industry, because the Dead were from San Francisco, they had a much more personal connection with Cream. On Cream's first two seminal American tours, they started in San Francisco. Jerry Garcia saw Cream at least twice in their first two-week run at the Fillmore in Summer 1967, and Garcia and Hart saw Cream at Winterland in March 1968. Their praise for Cream could not have been higher. However, unlike most other Fillmore bands or American 60s rock headliners, the Grateful Dead actually opened for Cream in their prime. This post will look at what is known about the performance by Cream and the Grateful Dead at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium on Monday, March 11, 1968.
|Fresh Cream, the band's debut album, released in December 1966 on Atco.|
It is difficult to overstate the importance of Cream to rock music in the 1960s. Not only were they a staggeringly popular group, Cream all but singlehandedly made instrumental virtuosity attractive to rock fans, and elevated great rock musicians to a status similar to great jazz musicians. It was probably going to happen anyway, but it happened in San Francisco at the Fillmore Auditorium in August 1967, and it permanently enshrined the Fillmore as the center of what was happening in 60s rock.
Cream had formed in England in 1966, and their debut album Fresh Cream was released on Atco Records in December of that year. Still, there wasn't any kind of hit single from that record. Eric Clapton was known both from early Yardbirds singles, like "For Your Love," and the great album with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. However, that was still an insider thing amongst musicians and hipsters, as Clapton had never toured America. In June of 1967, Cream had released a single from the sessions for their forthcoming album, "Strange Brew" backed by "Tales Of Brave Ulysses." The record was a huge step forward, and Eric Clapton's guitar playing cut like a knife. The single got some AM rock airplay around the country, even if it wasn't a giant hit.
In mid-1967, however, the San Francisco rock market was different, because it had FM rock radio. KMPX-fm had gone on the air in February of '67, and by April the station was playing rock 24/7. It didn't matter that Cream had no hit singles, because KMPX played album tracks. Cream was getting heavy airplay on KMPX, so they were a hit act in San Francisco long before anywhere else in the country. Cream had played one special show in New York in March of '67, but up until the Summer of '67 their touring had otherwise been confined to the United Kingdom. Bill Graham had his ear to the ground, and thanks to KMPX he knew something was happening with them. Thus he booked Cream for 12 dates over two weeks at the Fillmore Auditorium, an unprecedented booking for a band without a hit single.
|Cream on stage at the Fillmore in the Summer of 1967 (from the BackWhenRadioWasBoss site)|
August 29-September 3, 1967 Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA: Cream/Electric Flag/Gary Burton Quartet
Bill Graham would have arranged the Summer booking for Cream in May or June of '67, when he must have known they were hot, but still with no idea how huge they would become. The bookings for both weeks were a 60s guitar extravaganza. The putative headline act for the first week was The Butterfield Blues Band, perennial San Francisco favorites. Guitarist Mike Bloomfield had left the band a few months earlier, but Elvin Bishop ably held down the lead guitar chores, and a young David Sanborn now led the horn section. Butterfield had headlined the Fillmore many times already, and was a proven commodity. The opening act for the first week was another band of white Chicago bluesmen, the Southside Sound System, who featured Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica and the great Harvey Mandel on guitar. Both men would stay in San Francisco after the Fillmore shows and become regulars on the scene.
For the second week, the other headliner was The Electric Flag, Mike Bloomfield's new band. At this point, the Flag had only played once, at the Monterey Pop Festival, and they had released no recordings. However, Bloomfield was the first American Guitar Hero, so his new band was a big deal, even if no one had heard it. The opening act was a New York jazz-rock group called the Gary Burton Quartet, featuring Larry Coryell on guitar. I don't have time to go into it here, but suffice to say that Coryell was and is as great as any American electric guitarist. And yet Cream were the featured attraction, and anyone in San Francisco who hadn't heard of Eric Clapton before he played the Fillmore sure heard about it afterwards.
English rock bands were always challenged when they came to the Fillmore. Of course, the light show, braless hippies girls and available weed were worthy of fond memories, but that wasn't what made the the Fillmore difficult. In England, although the gigging was constant and the fans discerning, even popular rock bands mostly played 30 minute sets, perhaps 40 at the most. Even if a band played multiple sets in a night, the house would be turned over, so a working band always put their best foot forward for each crowd, generally playing the same numbers.
At the Fillmore, however, while all the acts played two sets, the house did not change. Graham used to warn popular bands that he expected two one-hour sets and that the audience stayed, so everyone would expect a different second set.This could panic a band used to playing 30 minute sets. When The Who learned this on their first Fillmore trip (June 16-17 '67), they had sent their manager out to the record store, and spent the afternoon practicing songs off their own albums in their hotel room. When Cream heard they were supposed to do two hours, they didn't know what they were going to do, since unlike The Who, they didn't have a backlog of singles and albums to draw from.
Cream's solution to extending their set was to play the same songs, but to add long improvised sections. Jack Bruce has famously said that Eric Clapton was a great jazz player, but that he didn't like it and had to be forced. He was forced now. Cream had a small number of tunes, and Bruce and Baker were going to jam like crazy, so Eric had no choice but to improvise and try and stay on top of them. He did, of course, and rock guitar was never the same again.
In England, and indeed in many venues on their '67 American tour, Clapton and Bruce played through their Marshall amps, and Baker played unamplified, or perhaps with one drum mic (which tells you how loud he was). There was often no PA except for the vocals, which were drowned out. But the Fillmore was different in this way as well. The Fillmore had an excellent in-house PA, with a trained sound crew, so the Marshalls, the drums and the vocals blasted out to the back wall of the Fillmore. If you are lucky enough to go the Fillmore today--still in great shape, more or less original, and still the best place to see anybody--stand in the tiny auditorium and imagine what it was like to hear Eric Clapton at the height of his powers roared through blues changes as Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker played a thunderous hurricane--three instruments, all equal, all loud, all driving, the sound of the future, right there in the Summer of 1967.
|(L-R) Nick Gravenites, Mike Bloomfield, Buddy Miles, Harvery Brooks and the Electric Flag on stage at the Fillmore, opening for Cream, August 29, 1967 (from the great Mike Bloomfield archival site). Note the low height of the stage.|
When Cream came to town, all the San Francisco musicians had to go see them. Conveniently, instead of one or two weekend shows when other musicians may have been working, Cream played at the Fillmore Tuesday through Sunday for two consecutive weeks, playing early and late sets every time. Anyone who wanted to find the time to see them did so. Garcia definitely did, and he was effusive in his praise for the band in a late '67 interview.
I would say the Cream are damn near the best group there is... Their music is really strong. I mean, really strong... They're much better musicians than Jimi Hendrix... You should have seen them at the Fillmore...cause they played with a lot of very heavy bands. They played with Gary Burton's band. They played with the Electric Flag. They played with Paul Butterfield's band and with Charlie Musselwhite's band. And they made them all sound pretty old-fashioned...Garcia's comments about the other acts make it clear that he saw Cream at least once on both weeks. Garcia generally only went to concerts to see musicians that appealed to him, rather than just to hang out. So we can tell how important seeing Cream must have been, because we know how busy Garcia was for the week.
Garcia had spent the weekend of August 19 in Lake Tahoe, since the Dead played the Legion Hall in South Lake Tahoe on Saturday (Aug 19). Amazingly, Garcia and Mountain Girl actually went camping for a few days, but the Dead would return to Tahoe, this time to the North Shore, to play the Kings Beach Bowl the next weekend (Aug 25-26). On Monday August 28, the Dead and Big Brother had played a wake in Golden Gate Park for a Hells Angel (Chocolate George), and by the next weekend the Dead were playing at the Dance Hall in Rio Nido. Nonetheless, Garcia must have returned from Lake Tahoe in time to see Cream with Butterfield, and then excited enough to return the next week.
Cream was staying in Sausalito, near the waterfront. All the San Francisco musicians must have gone to hang out, and there are famous Jim Marshall photos of Jerry and Eric from right around then. Both of them are smiling genially, but there is no evidence that they played together.
Keep in mind that the famous "Dark Star" rehearsal that Robert Hunter heard in Rio Nido was the weekend of September 3, and Cream had just burst open the doors of the instrumental possibilities of live rock music on stage. There was another connection to Cream as well, even though the timing is a bit obscure: Owsley. Rhoney Gissen describes in some detail having dinner with Owsley, Jack Bruce and his wife Janet Godfrey. It's unclear whether it took place in Summer '67 or March '68, but I think it was back in the Summer, and in any case, the initial connection must have been then. Thus, the Grateful Dead had social connections to Cream that weren't overtly based on sharing a bill or a recording studio. Eric Clapton, Jerry Garcia, Owsley: a strange brew indeed, and the music world is a better place for it.
|Cream's second album, Disraeli Gears, released on Atco in December 1967|
March 7-10, 1968, Winterland, San Francisco, CA: Cream/James Cotton Blues Band/Blood, Sweat & Tears/Jeremy & The Satyrs (Mar 7 Fillmore)
When Cream returned to San Francisco six months later, it was certified event. Never mind two weeks at the Fillmore--now Cream would headline six weekend shows at the 5400 seat Winterland, an unprecedented booking, with two shows at the Fillmore thrown in (on Sunday Mar 3 and Thursday Mar 7). There were opening acts, but none of them were major bands, since Cream was going to sell all the tickets. Blood, Sweat & Tears was a new band at this time, still fronted by Al Kooper, and while James Cotton was probably a big name to Eric Clapton, he was not a big Fillmore draw. The other acts were even less well-known, as they were just there to provide something to listen to while fans filed in and bought popcorn. The setlists (see Appendix 2 below) suggest that the regular formula was probably followed, with Cream playing the 3rd and 6th (or, for the second week, 4th and 7th) sets of the night.
In December 1967, Atco had released the second Cream album, Disraeli Gears. It was a revelation. Recorded in New York with Felix Pappalardi and Tom Dowd, it had the crisp sound of Booker T and The MGs supercharged with maximum volume and Owsley-inspired pyrotechnics. There was a modest AM hit with the song "Sunshine Of Your Love," but it didn't matter. People bought the album for all the tracks, and Disraeli Gears sold and sold and sold. Atlantic Records had never seen anything like it. A gold album without a serious hit was unprecedented. Sure, the single got a little play and there was that weird FM station in San Francisco, but only jazz albums sold without airplay. And in pop terms, jazz records sold peanuts. Here was a sophisticated rock group selling truckloads of albums without any of the conventional superstructure. Suddenly, record companies looked at seemingly uncommercial groups like the Grateful Dead or Quicksilver Messenger Service and thought "maybe there is a way we can sell some records after all."
Garcia and other members of the Dead were not going to miss Cream at Winterland. The first weekend, the Dead had two shows in an obscure venue in Walnut Creek (March 1-2 at Clifford's), and the second weekend they were in Southern California, opening for the Jefferson Airplane at Disneyland (March 8-9 Melodyland). In between they were at Coast Recorders with Dan Healy, struggling with making sense of the tapes they had made for Anthem Of The Sun. However, that left Garcia and the others some chances to catch Cream, either at the late set on the weekends or on one of the Thursday or Sunday nights.
Garcia made a point of going, as recalled by Mickey Hart in a 1981 interview with John Platt (quoted by David Gans and Blair Jackson):
We walked into [Winterland] right as [Cream drummer Ginger Baker] was getting into his solo. It was amazing. I turned to Jerry and said 'They have to be the best band in the world," and he said 'Tonight, they are the best band in the world."This would have been a few days before the band opened for Cream at the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium, on Monday, March 11.
|The Sacramento Memorial Auditorium at 1515 J Street, in March 2009|
Sacramento was California's Capital city and it was located in the center of the state, at the junction of the Sacramento and American Rivers. The Sacramento area had been the heart of the Gold Rush, and the two rivers sent the agricultural bounty of California's Central Valley down the Sacramento to the San Francisco Bay and beyond. In 1854, Sacramento was made the permanent capital of the state, succeeding Vallejo and Monterey. It was a good compromise between the agricultural center of the state and the booming, sinful vortex of San Francisco. When Los Angeles arose as an important economic counterweight to San Francisco in the early 20th century, Sacramento's central location was also very politically advantageous.
Befitting the capital city of a booming state, Sacramento opened the Memorial Auditorium downtown at 1515 J Street in February, 1927. It had a capacity of 3,687, huge for the time. The Sacramento rock market in the 60s wasn't large, but it's proximity to San Francisco made it an attractive "extra" booking for bands touring on the West Coast. Bay Area Fillmore bands tended to play the two colleges, at either UC Davis or Sacramento State College. The relatively larger touring bands would play the larger Sacramento Memorial Auditorium. The Rolling Stones had played the Auditorium three times (Sep 30 '64, May 23 '65 and a double show on Dec 3 '65), and the Yardbirds had played there twice in 1966 (Jan 8 and Sep 7). Subsequently, bands like Herman's Hermits (July 16 '67 with The Who), The Doors (Dec 15 '67) and the Vanilla Fudge (Jan 19 '68 with The Fifth Dimension) had all headlined there. In 1968, Cream was the biggest rock act actually touring, so it was appropriate that they would play the Memorial Auditorium, the biggest venue in the Central Valley.
|A poster for an early light show by Sacramento's Simultaneous Avalanche, at the Governor's Hall on May 12, 1967|
The Grateful Dead had played shows in Sacramento and Davis, but they had another connection to the Sacramento fans through the now-forgotten rock scene at Lake Tahoe. Lake Tahoe was the premier resort for all of Northern California, and from Memorial Day through Labor Day it was packed with Northern California teenagers. In the mid-60s, Lake Tahoe had rock shows several nights a week, since every night was Saturday night for vacationing teens. Various San Francisco bands found out they could get good bookings when they weren't playing the Fillmore or Avalon, so there were a lot of cool shows up at Tahoe, at several different venues. In Summer 1967, the Grateful Dead had played both the South Shore (at the Legion Hall on August 19) and two nights at the North Shore (at Kings Beach Bowl August 25-26). Many of the teens seeing the shows were from the Sacramento area, so the Dead had plenty of fans in the area, even when they hadn't played Sacramento much.
Some of the Tahoe crowd had a light show called Simultaneous Avalanche. When they returned to Sacramento in the Fall, they started organizing shows in the area. Most famously, they put on a Big Brother show at the gym in Sacramento State on January 6, 1968 and a Jimi Hendrix Experience there on February 8, 1968. So there was definitely a growing psychedelic rock scene in the area. Cream was a certified event, larger than any other touring rock band at the time, but thanks to the Simulataneous Avalanche crowd, Sacramento had a psychedelic tinge to it as well.
March 11, 1968 Sacramento Memorial Auditorium, Sacramento, CA: Cream/Grateful Dead
Various groups opened for Cream in 1968, but the Grateful Dead were among the most prominent of the time. This speaks well of the band's willingness to put music first, and not to be concerned with whether there own status as headliners would be diminished by opening for a bigger act. We do not have a tape, but apparently the Dead played a pretty spirited set to open the show (see the setlist below). As a remarkable footnote, Deadbase reports that they were joined by Tom Constanten for this show, a foretaste of the Live/Dead era a year early. Gans and Jackson rescue another quote from a John Platt interview with Mickey Hart (Comstock Lode magazine, #9, Autumn 1981)
MICKEY HART: We invited them to play with us. We played Sacramento, and Kreutzmann and I really got up for it. We were the best band in the world that night. Ginger got crazy, and they blew out every speaker on the first note. They were trying to reach our intensity. We got our equipment guys to roll our equipment out. It was so clear, it scared the shit out of Clapton--they were used to feeding back through all their Marshall [amps]. (p106)Hart's memory that the Dead invited Cream to play with them is touching, but probably completely divorced from reality. The Cream at Sacramento would have been booked 30 to 60 days before it was held, and Cream would have been in England. Cream was also the hottest touring act in the country, and did not have to accept "invitations" from any locally popular bands anywhere. Furthermore, the Dead would have had no chance of booking a profitable show on a Monday night in Sacramento--the show had to have been booked by Cream's booking agency well in advance. The poster (above) had to be printed weeks in advance too, so it was no last-minute booking.
Now, Monday night shows are traditionally poorly-attended, and their may have been some anxiety from Cream's management about the crowd, so booking a locally popular band as an opener was a good hedge. Not so much that people would see the Dead without wanting to see Cream--every rock fan wanted to see Cream--but that adding the Dead would make it a can't-miss-even-on-a-Monday event. And the Dead probably did have their own back channels to Cream's booking agent, and probably made it clear that they were willing to be a support act rather than a headliner, but that's a far cry from "inviting" Cream.
The interesting detail that Hart adds has to do with the sound system. Cream was unhappy with their sound on tour in most places, since they did not bring their own PA. At Sacramento, they may have simply been using their Marshalls for amplification. If some fuses were blown out, it stands to reason that Owsley and the crew would plug in the Dead's PA, which was probably still on stage. The Dead's live sound was so superior to other bands that it probably did surprise Clapton to hear no feedback with his guitar maxed out. This event was a sort of precursor to a similar, larger episode when the Rolling Stones would play the Oakland Coliseum Arena 18 months later, when the Dead offered their gear for the second set after the Stones Ampeg gear was blown out.
|Wheels Of Fire, Cream's hugely successful double album, released on Atco in June 1968. One lp was a studio recording, and the other was recorded live at Winterland in March 1968.|
1968 was a whirlwind of activity for both Cream and the Grateful Dead, and afterwards the show just filed itself into the zeitgeist. Cream headed South, first to the Selland Arena in Fresno (Wednesday March 13) and then a weekend at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles (March 15-16), then on Eastwards to fame and legend. Their next album, the double-lp Wheels Of Fire, featured a live album from Winterland in March. Cream stunned the industry again by having record sales for a double album with no single, much of it consisting of long instrumental jamming. Cream paved the way for groups like the Grateful Dead (and Pink Floyd and a dozen others) to make serious rock albums like Live/Dead, because Cream had show record companies that great live music was no barrier to successful record sales.
The Grateful Dead's month was equally frantic. Amidst all this, they were opening the Carousel Ballroom and competing directly with Bill Graham and Chet Helms. The band would return to the Carousel for three nights in the forthcoming weekend (March 15-17). They too would then head east to fame and legend, if on a slower track than Cream. Yet Cream's presence and music had a big effect on both Jerry Garcia and the Dead.
In September 1967, the Dead started rehearsing "Dark Star," added Robert Hunter as lyricist and added Mickey Hart as a second drummer. "Dark Star" is a long way from Cream's "Spoonful," but it's virtuoso music for serious listening, and Cream had made that possible. Cream did not generally write their own lyrics, a subject I have not even discussed here, as they were written by poet Pete Brown, and that was another way in which Garcia was emulating them (although I think Procol Harum was an equally big influence in that respect). Finally, Jefferson Airplane bassist Jack Casady was also enamored of Cream, and Garcia and Casady played around with the idea of forming their own power trio. There's even a tape, from Rancho Olompali on July 28, 1968. The idea never really went anywhere, I think for practical reasons, but Cream inspired Jerry and Jack to try it on, and that's saying something.
The Dead would play Sacramento Memorial Auditorium four more times from 1970-79 (Dec 22 '70, Aug 12 '72, Jan 17 '78 and June 28 '79). Sacramento made a good weeknight booking or warm-up show, and by the end of the 70s plenty of Bay Area Deadheads were more than willing to make the two-hour drive, so the shows did good business. By the 1980s, however, the Dead simply got too big for Sacramento Memorial, and the building closed in 1986. Still, the Dead did great business in Sacramento in much bigger venues. Nonetheless, however many good shows there were at Cal Expo, none of them would have been like seeing the 1968 lineup firing on all twelve cylinders, trying to show the mighty Cream that they were contenders too. Here's to hoping that someone, somewhere, has some pictures or memories that will bring the event into clearer focus.
Appendix 1: Grateful Dead setlist March 11, 1968
Deadbase shows a setlist for March 11, 1968. I don't know the source, and there is no evidence of a tape. Sounds like a great set, however, and it fits Mickey Hart's description of an intense performance.
Cryptical Envelopment > Other one > Cryptical Envelopment > New Potato Caboose > Born Cross-Eyed > Caution (Do Not Stop on tracks) Jam. [w/Tom Constanten]
|Goodbye Cream, released in 1969 after the band had done their farewell tour.|
There was a Cream setlist from the Fillmore for Sunday, September 3, 1967. This must be based on an audience tape. I do not know if this was the early set or the late set. There may have been some different songs throughout the booking, but Cream did not have that many songs at the time, so most nights were probably pretty similar to this.
- Tales of brave Ulysses
- Sunshine of your love
- Sweet wine
- Lawdy mama
- Sleepy time time
- Steppin' out
|A bootleg cream cd recorded from the March 1968 Winterland shows|
I do not know whether this is a combination of both sets, or if the band played one long set.
- Cat Squirrel
- Sunshine of your love
- I'm so glad
- Sleepy Time Time
- Tales of brave Ulysses
- We're going wrong
- Steppin' out
March 9 '68 setlist Winterland
The setlist for March 9 seems to indicate two sets, and they do "Toad" twice.
- Tales of brave Ulysses
- Sleepy time time
- Sweet wine
- Sunshine of your love
- Sitting on top of the world
- I'm so glad