Thursday, August 4, 2016

June 26, 1981 Fox-Warfield Theatre, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia Band with Phil Lesh/High Noon/Mike Henderson (The Truth Is Out There)

Jerry Garcia has a remarkably well-documented musical history, both as part of and separate from the Grateful Dead. Yet there is so much available information to process about Garcia that some well-known facts remain unexamined. A closer look at such events opens the door to many interesting interpretations, but the paucity of explanations by any of the principals makes that door very difficult to walk through. One such event was the Jerry Garcia Band performance at the Fox-Warfield Theatre in San Francisco on Saturday, June 26, 1981, which included the advertised appearance of Phil Lesh on bass in place of John Kahn. The show was well attended, if not quite sold out, audience tapes circulate and a portion of it was officially released as an official "download-only" Pure Jerry selection--if only for a week--, so the event was well-documented.

The event was clearly important for the Garcia Band. The group almost never played concerts in San Francisco, yet made an exception for this one night. There had been a show the night before in Santa Cruz, also with Phil Lesh, and as it turned out, a stealth warm-up show in Salinas the night before that (Sherwood Hall, Thursday, June 24). To the surprise of fans, the JGB introduced two female backup singers, hearkening back to the Maria Muldaur and Donna Godchaux era of the band. While they made this debut with the planned participation of Phil Lesh, for subsequent shows John Kahn returned to his familiar role as bassist and straw boss. No explanation has ever been given for why the biggest Garcia show in San Francisco in the first half of the 80s was without Kahn. This post will attempt to determine some possible explanations for this turn of events.

The Jerry Garcia Band had released Cats Under The Stars in 1978, on Arista Records, but it had not been successful

The Jerry Garcia Band, 1981
By 1981, the Grateful Dead were a venerable Bay Area institution. In rock and roll, that wasn't necessarily seen as a positive. To many rock fans, the Dead were decades old, with some of the members nearing forty years old. Even grownup rock fans would shrug and say, well, I saw them a while ago and it was fun, but it's just old hippie stuff. The Dead still regularly sold out multi-night runs at the Oakland Auditorium, and they had sold out a remarkable 15-night run at the Fox-Warfield in the Fall of 1980, but they didn't seem to be getting any bigger. Given their vintage, it was mainly remarkable that they weren't getting any smaller.

Jerry Garcia had a sort of special status. He had been an iconic rock star and public figure in the Bay Area since 1966, and he stood for a lot of hippie values, which, as previously noted, was not at all any kind of universal positive. However, a lot of rock stars lived in the Bay Area, not just home-grown products like the Dead and the Airplane, but transplants like Van Morrison or David Crosby. In general, San Franciscans take great pride in their casual attitude towards legends in their midst, because San Franciscans see that as the proper attitude for a world-class city, and that is how they see their home. Thus while Jerry Garcia, the individual, was likely to get bugged by Deadheads, the general population was not so impressed that a rock star regularly played local joints, as for that matter, so did Van Morrison and Robin Williams. San Francisco fans were proud of that, but it wasn't a big deal. Thus, in comparison to the East Coast, the Jerry Garcia Band was a relatively modest attraction in the Bay Area, performing profitably but without fanfare.

In the early 1980s, Bay Area Jerry Garcia Band shows were never reviewed in local papers. There was no news about the band. Since the Grateful Dead Hotline or the Sunday display ads for the Keystones told Garcia fans what they needed to know about upcoming shows, there were never radio ads or other promotional strategies that attracted attention to the band. The normal cycle of the record company publicizing artist performances to attract attention in order to increase record sales had no bearing on the Jerry Garcia Band universe. The JGB had made one poorly received album (Cats Under The Stars) and had seemed to drop out of the record industry. Only Deadheads, and not all of them, knew what the Garcia Band was up to. Even that sort of information was pretty thin. Garcia and Kahn had added two new keyboard players and changed drummers in early 1981, and it was months before I could even find out the names of the new guys.

For most Bay Area rock fans, the principal source of rock concert information was the Sunday Chronicle Datebook insert, known as "The Pink Section," since it was published on pink newsprint. The first edition of the Sunday paper was available around Friday at midnight, and you could read all the ads that said "on sale Today!," which meant Sunday (36 hours hence), since The Pink Section had a print deadline of Tuesday. As I recall, BASS tickets had a regular ad, separate from the Bill Graham Presents ad, and it listed forthcoming shows. One Sunday, probably in late May, amongst listings for numerous shows that were "on sale today [i.e Sunday]" were two shows featuring The Jerry Garcia Band with Phil Lesh. The Thursday night show was June 25 at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, and the Friday night show was June 26 at the Fox-Warfield. For the likes of me, there was no hesitation, but it left open the question of what this ad might imply.
Although the Grateful Dead were bigger than ever by 1981, the Jerry Garcia Band continued to play club shows at Keystone Berkeley, Keystone Palo Alto and The Stone in San Francisco (the calendar is from February 1980)

State Of Play: Bill Graham, The Keystones and Jerry Garcia
I have discussed at length Jerry Garcia's long history with the Keystone Berkeley and its two sister clubs, Keystone Palo Alto and The Stone, so I will only emphasize a few highlights here. Jerry Garcia had started playing for Freddie Herrera at the Keystone Korner in San Francisco back in 1971. Herrera fully moved over to the Keystone Berkeley by 1972, and all of Garcia's side aggregations had played there regularly. Herrera's partner Bobby Corona opened the Keystone Palo Alto in 1977, and The Stone, on Broadway in San Francisco, in 1979. Garcia played all three clubs regularly. By the time all three clubs had closed by the end of the 1980s, Garcia had played over 400 shows for the Keystones.

Garcia's commitment to the Keystones was not some casual choice. Bill Graham was the dominant promoter in the Bay Area, and critical to the Grateful Dead's financial well-being, yet Garcia chose to work regularly with Graham's competitor. More importantly, Garcia did not play other venues in Berkeley, Palo Alto or San Francisco, since there were Keystones in those cities. Where there were no Keystones, in places like Santa Cruz or Marin, the Jerry Garcia Band would play for other promoters, including Bill Graham. There were very occasional exceptions to this pattern, but they all but exclusively were benefit concerts. Bill Graham clearly would have wanted to produce Jerry Garcia Band concerts in Berkeley, San Francisco or the Palo Alto area, but Garcia stuck to Herrera and Corona.

Thus it was surprising indeed to see the Jerry Garcia Band booked for a weekend of concerts by Bill Graham Presents. In particular, it was unprecedented for Garcia to play the Fox-Warfield, rather than a couple of nights at the various Keystones. The Santa Cruz booking was less surprising, as the JGB had played for Graham at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium back in 1978 (on Feb 19 '78, along with Robert Hunter and Comfort). However, since that time Garcia had started to play shows at The Catalyst in Santa Cruz. The Catalyst story is a sub-plot I have not yet addressed, but suffice to say here was BGP booking the Garcia Band for two shows in cities where Garcia had an existing booking relationship with local clubs. To top it off, there was the unprecedented detail that Phil Lesh would be in the band.
Reputedly, John Kahn drove a black BMW in the 1980s (this is a 1981 BMW 320i)
Where Was John Kahn?
Over the next few weeks, there was no other announcement or press coverage of the Garcia Band shows, nor any explanation of the presence of Phil Lesh. You have to understand, there wasn't ever any coverage, but it added to the air of mystery. Of course my friends and I got tickets for the Fox-Warfield show. It was going to be on a Saturday night, with reserved seats, and Warfield shows never ran as late as Keystone Berkeley, so it was very appealing, and the few extra dollars for the tickets seemed well worth it. Yet we couldn't help but speculate about Kahn and Phil. There seemed to be a couple of possibilities:

John Kahn was on tour with someone else
Deadheads, nor anyone else, knew almost nothing about John Kahn. He was never interviewed, and we knew nothing of his musical background, save that he had recorded on a lot of albums made in the Bay Area. On the other other hand, we did know that Maria Muldaur was Kahn's girlfriend, or at least had been in the 1970s. So it wasn't impossible to imagine that Kahn was on tour with Maria or someone else, and that Lesh would be standing in. However, if Kahn had another tour, or had joined a new band, that was sort of news, and I would have expected to read about it in (Blair Jackson-edited) BAM or Joel Selvin's column in the Pink Section. There was no news about Kahn, so it didn't seem likely that he had another gig.
John Kahn was out of the band
Maybe John Kahn had just left the Garcia Band? Knowing what we know now, of course, we realize how unlikely that would have been. But we knew none of that at the time. From a Deadhead perspective, drummers came and went, Merl Saunders had left, returned (in Reconstruction) and had left again (from our point of view), so Kahn leaving wasn't unthinkable.
Phil Lesh wanted to get out and play
By now, we've read Phil's autobiography and know that he was never that into playing with more than one band, but we knew no such thing then. Garcia had been a regular performer in the Bay Area since 1970, Bob Weir since 1974, and appearances by Hart and Kreutzmann were not unknown. Phil had made a very few, unheralded appearances with a Marin pick-up band called Too Loose To Truck in 1975 and '76, but had largely remained at home. Still, in February of 1981, he had played with Hart and Kretuzmann as part of The Rhythm Devils, promoting the Apocalypse Now soundtrack sessions. So maybe Phil wanted to play out a little bit. 
On top of that, the opening act for both shows was Mickey Hart's band High Noon, featuring Norton Buffalo and Merl Saunders. The group had debuted at the Fox-Warfield on May 22 '81, opening for an acoustic Grateful Dead benefit performance (where John Kahn had played bass instead of Phil Lesh), and was starting to be booked around Bay Area clubs. Thus a booking with not just Garcia and Hart's bands, but Phil Lesh as well, made some commercial sense.
None of these things turned out to be true. Kahn wasn't on tour with anyone else, he would never leave the Garcia Band and Lesh was no more than an emergency fill-in. So what was the emergency? Where was Kahn? How did Jerry Garcia and Bill Graham know that John Kahn would not be available 30 to 60 days before the show was booked, and yet that he would return from his unexplained absence? Kahn would play bass for every Garcia Band date save two until Jerry's death in 1995. Where was he?

Since no one has answered this question in 35 years--I admit no one has asked it, either--I will present my theory. I should point out in advance that I have no special information, and this is just inductive reasoning on my part. Anyone with additional information, or even just a choogly feeling, should address my hypothesis in the Comments.

I think John Kahn had a 30-day jail term for a probation violation, probably related to a DUI. I think the shows had been booked within the usual 60 to 90 day window, and that Kahn figured any penalties for an existing violation would be continued or delayed, but he or his attorneys had miscalculated. Unlike Keystone Berkeley shows, actual BGP concerts could not be canceled so easily. Thus Phil Lesh was drafted as a substitute, which probably suited Bill Graham just fine, and in enough time to even advertise it. Yet after the shows, Kahn simply returned to the Garcia Band.

If Kahn had had a medical issue, a pending operation for example, there would not likely have been a two-month wait for any procedure. While any legal issue could have prevented his appearance, the odd scheduling suggests some series of pending appeals that would have caused the shows to be booked with the reasonable hope that Kahn would be available. One odd characteristic of the Keystone-era Garcia Band was that all the band members drove themselves to the shows, Kahn and Garcia included. This is far less of a big deal than it sounds--both the Keystone Berkeley and The Stone were no more than an hour from San Rafael or other typical Marin points, and easy freeway driving at that. Neither Garcia nor Kahn (to my knowledge) had a significant history of dangerous driving or accidents (looking at you, Jeff Beck). However, if Kahn had been stopped for some reason, it's not hard to suspect that a policeman might not find reason to think JK had been "under the influence." Since the Jerry Garcia Band never received any press coverage, it would have been easy to keep it out of the papers.

When the Jerry Garcia Band first formed in Fall 1975, drummer Ron Tutt was an equal member, along with Garcia, John Kahn and pianist Nicky Hopkins


The Return Of Ronnie Tutt
As I recall, while I was contemplating the mysteries of Phil Lesh's substitution for John Kahn, additional JGB shows were advertised for the Keystones, with no mention of Phil (July 23 at The Stone, July 24 at Keystone Palo Alto and July 26 at Keystone Berkeley). This eliminated some of the hypothetical possibilities, but it provided no real answers. In retrospect, three facts stand out:
  • The Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia were not in good financial circumstances, and the idea of canceling or delaying two profitable Garcia Band shows was not a good option
  • It turned out that the weekend of Garcia Band concerts was debuting Garcia's vision of the next Garcia Band. That vision would be enacted for the remaining 14 years of the Garcia Band's existence, but the peculiar circumstances of the JGB concerts meant that the subject was never mentioned again
  • The key to the planned future of the Jerry Garcia Band was the impending return of the great Ron Tutt on drums
My hypothesis about the 1981 Jerry Garcia Band was that the entire year was organized around the planned return of Ron Tutt to the band. This included recording a new album and a National tour. Starting around September of 1981, Ron Tutt returned to the drum chair of the Jerry Garcia Band, rehearsing and recording with the band at Club Front. The national tour was announced on the Grateful Dead Hotline in October, where GDTS manager Steve Marcus announced "the return of Ronnie Tutt" for the upcoming Garcia Band tour. Comments about Garcia Band members were all but unheard of on the Hotline, so there was no doubt that this was no small thing.

Most Garcia fans know that Ron Tutt was the original drummer for the Jerry Garcia Band when it was founded in the Fall of 1975. However, unlike some previous iterations of Garcia's bar band, the 1975 Jerry Garcia Band was a partnership between Garcia, John Kahn, Nicky Hopkins and Tutt. Obviously, Hopkins was no longer a partner after 1975, and I don't know Tutt's exact status afterwards, but he was not just some hired hand. Certainly, with not only a tour but a planned album--which would become Run For The Roses--something serious was afoot.

The Jerry Garcia Band's drummer for most of 1981 was Daoud (nee David) Shaw. Shaw was an experienced session drummer with a lengthy pedigree. Among many other things, he was in Van Morrison's backing group for the 1970 album His Band And Street Choir, and thus Shaw was the drummer for classic tracks like "Domino" and "Blue Money."  Shaw, once in the 60s MGM group Chrysalis, had also been the original drummer for the Saturday Night Live house band, back in 1975. However, in an interview with scholar and journalist Jake Feinberg, Shaw said that he knew at the beginning that drumming for the Garcia Band was a "six-month gig," so clearly the plans were afoot with Garcia, Kahn and Tutt were all along. A busy drummer like Tutt would have had many commitments, so any tours would have had to have been planned months in advance.

Once Garcia and Kahn figured out how they wanted to construct the Garcia Band, it remained that way until 1995 (this is the playbill for the JGB Lunt-Fontanne shows in 1987. If you have trouble with the trivia questions inside, I helped write them)

The Jerry Garcia Band Blueprint, 1981
It is my proposition that the 1981 Jerry Garcia Band was constructed as the idealized summation of the previous iterations of Jerry Garcia's previous Keystone bands. The different configurations, from Garcia/Saunders, thru Legion Of Mary and then the Keith and Donna lineup, followed by Reconstruction and then the Ozzie Ahlers lineup of 1979-80 had given Garcia a chance to try out various combinations of musicians and sounds. When considering the lengthy, if obscure, history of occasional guests is considered, from Sarah Fulcher and George Tickner, through "Tim Hensley" and John Rich and many lesser known participants, it is fair to say that Garcia and Kahn had tried most typical bar band combinations across a variety of genres. Thus the 1981 JGB could fairly be pegged as the optimal Garcia Band sound, notwithstanding that Jerry and John never said things like "optimal."

In January of 1981, Garcia had debuted his new organ player, Melvin Seals, whom he had first seen playing as part of the Elvin Bishop Group. After just a few dates, Garcia peremptorily added Jimmy Warren on electric piano. Along with Daoud Shaw on drums, this lineup played steadily throughout the first half of 1981. The big surprise of the June concert was that the Garcia Band now included two female harmony vocalists. It being the Garcia Band and all, they were not introduced or alluded to on stage, and indeed it was some weeks before I even figured out their names. It was quite a shock at the Fox-Warfield when the stage curtain was raised and their were two singers joining in on "I'll Take A Melody." Sure, the band had played the night before in Santa Cruz, so some people surely knew, but nobody had even conceived of AOL, much less Twitter, so most of us had no idea.
Jerry Garcia Band, June 26, 1981   
Jerry Garcia-guitar, vocals
Melvin Seals-Hammond organ
Jimmy Warren-electric piano
Phil Lesh-bass
Daoud Shaw-drums
Liz Stires-vocals
Essra Mohawk-vocals
Leave aside, for a second, the curriculum vitae of the members of the Jerry Garcia Band at the time. Consider, instead, how the band's lineup was a distillation of earlier Garcia aggregations.

Drummer
The Garcia drum chair had mainly been the province of Bill Vitt, Bill Kreutzmann and Ron Tutt, although Paul Humphrey had been the most prominent of many part-timers. The drum chair was characterized by firm time keeping and a light R&B touch. The archetype was Tutt. Even when Kreutzmann was in the chair, he had kept a lighter, firmer touch than was required for the Dead, which Billy handled admirably. Today, we know that Daoud Shaw was an interim guy as well, but he definitely fit the mold of Vitt and Tutt. Since I am proposing that the band was being built for Tutt, it was crucial that the interim drummer had the tasteful, understated feel that Tutt would bring.

Keyboards
It is my assertion here that after trying numerous configurations, Kahn and Garcia had decided to construct the Garcia Band along the lines of 1960s R&B bands, who in turn had built their sound around gospel music of the same era. John Kahn was a huge gospel fan, and so was Donna Godchaux, and Garcia had learned plenty about that music. The essence of that sound was a pounding, rhythmic piano, juxtaposed against a warm, swirling Hammond organ sound. For most pop music fans, even today, Ray Charles was the best known exponent of this sound, but numerous other soul hits followed this format. Amongst rock bands, the best known exponents were Procol Harum and The Band, both of them influenced by classic R&B and influential to Garcia over the years.

In the preceding decade, Garcia had moved between the organ and piano sounds. Merl Saunders' soulful Hammond sound had been the initial template for Garcia's bar band, from 1971 to 1975. When Saunders was pushed out, Garcia moved to a grand piano sound that was anchored in American roots music, first with Nicky Hopkins (Fall '75), then with James Booker (a few dates in January '76) and finally with Keith Godchaux (1976-78). Merl's organ returned for the jazzy Reconstruction ('79), and then Ozzie Ahlers played electric piano and Oberheim synth for the '79-80 tours. Ahlers was an odd hybrid, playing rhythmic piano behind Jerry, while soloing--at Garcia's insistence--on the synthesizer.

Although the formal structure of Garcia's bar bands was a quartet (Garcia/keyboard/Kahn/drummer), there were numerous efforts to add a fifth instrument over the years. Only tenor saxophonist Martin Fiero was a regular performer over an extended period (1974-75). Yet numerous other players were tried out. Among those identified from tapes were guitarists Tom Fogerty (1971-72) and then George Tickner (Spring '73), and then the electric piano player introduced by Nicky Hopkins in October 1975 as "Tim Hensley" (not apparently his actual name), pedal steel guitarist John Rich (December 1976) and a few unknown participants circa 1977. So a five-piece Garcia Band actually fit the history of the Garcia Band, but there had not yet been a regular dual keyboard lineup.

Jimmy Warren's piano playing is generally much maligned by Garcia fans. a criticism which is largely justified. Warren, a local player who was friendly with Kahn and Garcia, was overmatched by the fluid demands of the Garcia Band. Still, my concern here is with what Garcia and Kahn were trying to do, not what actually happened. Once the two singers were added to the JGB, the sonic concept of twin keyboards made sense. The "rhythm piano" was supposed to be an anchor for the vocals, freeing the organist to provide the color. Many listeners were (and are) unhappy with Keith Godchaux's mostly simplistic piano playing in the 1978 Garcia Band, but it makes more sense if we think that it should have been better paired with a rippling Hammond organ as a counterpoint.

Harmony Vocalists
The big surprise of the June Garcia Band shows was the reappearance of two harmony singers in the band. Female vocalists had been an ongoing theme for Garcia's electric bar band for most of the previous decade. The first nominee, Sarah Fulcher, who sang at some but not all Garcia/Saunders shows in 1972-73, has also been widely criticized over the years. However, she appears to have simply been a Beta test for vocalists to come. When Keith and Donna Godchaux joined the Jerry Garcia Band in January of 1976, the focus was usually on Keith, but I am of the belief that ultimately Garcia was more interested in having Donna in the band.

Starting in late 1977, Donna was joined on stage by Maria Muldaur. Maria was of course already a well-known singer, but since she was John Kahn's girlfriend, she informally but nonetheless officially joined the group. The sound of the 1978 Garcia Band was greatly enriched by the powerful harmonies of Donna and Maria. When two vocalists were added to the 1981 band, it was pretty clear that this was the sound being evoked. Since almost every Garcia Band lineup after June 1981 had two female vocalists (save for the occasional transitional dates), it's fair to say that the two female vocalists were decreed as an essential component of the Jerry Garcia Band for its remaining duration.

It is worth a note that the two female vocalists of the 1981 JGB fit the blueprint beyond their vocal skills. Donna Godchaux and Maria Muldaur were the wife and girlfriend, respectively, of two JGB members. In turn, Essra Mohawk and Liz Stires were also the wife and girlfriend of band members. Essra Mohawk, already an accomplished singer and recording artist for well over a decade, was the wife of drummer Daoud Shaw. Liz Stires, a musician who had played around Marin, was Jimmy Warren's girlfriend.

I don't think that Mohawk and Stires hiring was an accident. All bands have a personality, and it extends to the backstage scene. Maria Muldaur had initially hung out at Garcia Band shows, and had casually worked her way on stage, with the confidence that came from being a star and having already performed with Garcia on occasion. But it also meant that when Maria joined, the new person on stage was not a new person backstage. A similar dynamic must have been in play with the '81 Garcia Band. Jerry Garcia had been a legendary rock star for well over a decade by 1981, and he could nor have looked forward to any backstage drama from new members of his side band. Yet since both new harmony singers had probably been familiar backstage figures for months already, the mellow JGB vibe could stay in place.

The June 1981 Jerry Garcia Band shows were the dry runs for the forthcoming Jerry Garcia Band. The band wasn't fully operational, because Ron Tutt wasn't on board. And once Shaw was replaced by Tutt, Essra Mohawk would leave, too, which Kahn surely knew, so the lineup was just a shakedown for what was to come. That was why, paradoxically, it was acceptable when Phil Lesh was forced to substitute for John Kahn, since the lineup wasn't final anyway. But it was still strange. Here Garcia and Kahn had been working all year towards the new model Garcia Band, and Kahn's absence insured that there would be no public explanation of any plans, had any explanation ever even been contemplated.

So here was Garcia's concept of the ideal Jerry Garcia Band
  • Jerry Garcia-lead guitar and lead vocals
  • Hammond organ, for color and counterpoint soloing
  • Rhythm piano
  • Two female harmony vocalists, with an R&B flavor
  • John Kahn-electric bass
  • Ron Tutt-drums
And here's what happened throughout the life of the band
Jerry Garcia-lead guitar and lead vocals
--this may seem self-evident, but actually it's not. For example, Garcia could have had another singer sharing the lead vocals, as he sometimes did with Donna Godchaux and Sarah Fulcher, or a rhythm guitarist.
Hammond organ, for color and counterpoint soloing
--Melvin Seals provided both for Jerry for the balance of JGB history
Rhythm piano
--Jimmy Warren was a huge letdown, but Seals rhythmic touch was so great that the piano role could be dispensed with
Two female harmony vocalists, with an R&B flavor
--although the female vocalists changed over time, they were an essential part of the JGB for the rest of its history as well. Through the years, their sound moved towards a more gospel feel, but that was the roots of R&B music anyway
John Kahn-electric bass
--Kahn only missed one-and-a-half further shows with the Garcia Band. One of them was a few months later, when Phil Lesh played at a benefit for the Fairfax schools (see below), and one time Dave Torbert stepped up in Chico (Mar 17 '82) for the first set when Kahn's arrival was delayed by heavy fog.
Ron Tutt-drums
--Tutt, unfortunately, only played the Fall 1981 tour. However, the versatile and understated style established by Tutt was the hallmark of the Jerry Garcia Band drum chair. For most of a decade, the seat was filled by the great David Kemper, a studio pro with almost as stellar a studio resume as Tutt. At other times, the chair was held by Greg Errico, Gaylord Birch and Don Baldwin, all of whom fit the Tutt mold in the best of senses.

The Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, at 397 Church Street, as it appeared in July 2010. The Jerry Garcia Band played here several times, including June 25, 1981 with Phil Lesh.

Salinas and Santa Cruz
Thus the Jerry Garcia Band that was playing at the Fox-Warfield on June 26, 1981 had been designed as the blueprint for the Garcia Band, and Garcia was true to the model for the next 14 years. The irony, however, was that Kahn wasn't there. Here there was a big plan for the future, and one of the principal architects was not present for the unveiling. Although there were relatively few interviews with Kahn (Blair Jackson had the first big one in Golden Road Winter 87), neither Kahn nor Garcia ever brought this up. Granted, no one asked, but whatever the reason that Kahn wasn't available--I have no evidence for the DUI theory, it just fits the known facts--I don't think he wanted to remind anyone of it. So rather than being remembered as a seminal weekend in the history of the Jerry Garcia Band, which it was, the June shows were buried and treated as a casual one-off, which they surely were not.

Although it is my hypothesis that the Fox-Warfield shows was planned as a sort of debut for the new model Garcia Band, it wasn't their actual debut. The same lineup, with Phil Lesh on board, had played the night before (Friday June 25) at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. This, too, was a Bill Graham Presents booking. It fit the Garcia Band pattern to "open out of town," rather than in San Francisco or Berkeley, and Santa Cruz seemed to fit the bill. Intriguingly, JGMF found very solid evidence that there was an even stealthier opening, the night before Santa Cruz.

On Thursday, June 24, 1981, it seems that the Jerry Garcia Band with Phil Lesh played the tiny Sherwood Hall in Salinas. Salinas was a nondescript seaside town that had primarily been the host to the nearby Fort Ord. Salinas was in between Monterey and Santa Cruz, on CA Route 1, and a good place to try out a band with two new singers and a guest bass player. I know High Noon had opened the Santa Cruz show, but they weren't present in Salinas. The Garcia Band would return to Sherwood Hall a few months later (Aug 6 '81), but at this time Garcia was never known to have played there. I do not know how the show was publicized or announced.

Most tape lists show Merl Saunders as having guested with the Jerry Garcia Band at Santa Cruz Civic. Merl was present, as he opened the show as a member of High Noon. I have only heard a faded audience tape of the show, and I don't really hear Merl, but I guess it's possible. The current thinking seems to be that Merl just sat in for the opening two numbers ("How Sweet It Is" and "Catfish John"). However, unless a reliable eyewitness can persuade me otherwise, I don't think Merl sat in. For one thing, with two new singers and a guest bass player, why would Garcia invite a third keyboard player on stage? My own opinion is that since people knew very little about the Garcia Band and there were no stage announcements, after seeing Merl on stage with High Noon and seeing a big black guy on the organ, stoned Deadheads just made the usual assumptions and the information got passed on as gospel.

June 26, 1981 Fox-Warfield Theater, 982 Market Street, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia Band/High Noon/Mike Henderson
Most of this post has been written from the knowing perspective of hindsight, to emphasize what a peculiar event the Fox-Warfield show had been. However, it is time to briefly return to the event itself, and an eyewitness account of how the show appeared at the time. My experience may not have been identical to everyone else's, so anyone with a different perspective is encouraged to add them in the Comments.

For a reason I no longer recall, my friends and I were slow on the draw and got tickets at the back of the balcony. However, Fox-Warfield sound and sightlines were so good that we were quite satisfied. We had seen numerous Dead shows at the Warfield in 1980, and other acts besides, so we knew we were getting good enough seats. The show was not sold out, but the place was pretty full. There were empty seats near us at the back of the theater, so I assume there were empty seats at the back of the floor. The only significance of sitting in the back was that we were not around the sort of hardcore fans who would have seen the Santa Cruz show, so we had no real inkling of what was coming. In those days, your information about recent shows was pretty much dependent on the conversations of people sitting around you.

One reason that the Fox-Warfield event had been so appealing was that it was a concert rather than a Keystone Berkeley show. Keystone Berkeley's charm was that time had no meaning, and Garcia never came on stage at the Keystone in those days before 11:00pm, sometimes way, way after. At that juncture in our lives, the time required to stand around all night at Keystone was not really welcome, and a seated concert on a more conventional schedule was very attractive. We could see Garcia at Keystone Berkeley any time, and sometimes did, but often as not we found excuses not to go.

The band High Noon, featuring Mickey Hart, Merl Saunders and Norton Buffalo, was opening the show. I had seen High Noon's debut the month before at the Fox-Warfield (May 22 '81), backing Country Joe McDonald and playing their own set in a mostly acoustic format at an anti-nuclear benefit that was headlined by an acoustic lineup of the Grateful Dead. The band was very good (I have written about High Noon at length elsewhere), and I was looking forward to seeing them again. While the High Noon members had mostly been listed in the concert ad, we didn't really know what they would sound like. Other than the May benefit, the Santa Cruz show had been High Noon's second show, so there was little to go on, which made it intriguing.

However, I for one was not pleased when 8:00pm rolled around and an emcee announced "will you please welcome Mike Henderson!" Henderson was a blues guitarist and singer who sometimes opened for Garcia at the Keystone Berkeley. He wasn't on the bill, and while he wasn't terrible, his acoustic guitar-plus-singing thing worked better in a crowded beer joint like Keystone then it did at a seated concert hall. To me, it was just delaying the show, and it wasn't what we wanted. I'm seem to recall Henderson playing for a very long time, which probably was an exaggeration, but the crowd was hardly impressed. This was followed by another long wait.

Finally, around 9:30pm, the curtain came up and High Noon played. They had an electric configuration that turned out to be more conventional than the acoustic lineup that had played before, but at this point I was just happy to hear them. They played similar material to their prior show, but with longer solos. Some remarks from Norton Buffalo suggested that someone in the band had been delayed. Presumably, that was why Mike Henderson had been added to the bill. This lineup of HIgh Noon had Hart on drums, Bobby Vega on bass, Merl on keyboards and vocals, Jim McPherson on organ, guitar and vocals, Mike Hinton on lead guitar, Vicki Bailey on congas and vocals and Norton Buffalo on harmonica and vocals. High Noon played for about an hour, and left the stage around 10:30.

Those of us who were expecting a quick set change were disappointed. In usual Garcia fashion, he was in no hurry to get on stage, and there was no attempt at explanation from the emcee or anyone else. Up in the back of the balcony, you could feel the natives get restless, particularly as the clock struck midnight. What was the point of avoiding the Keystone Berkeley for a concert, if the concert was going to start even later than any Keystone show? Finally, shortly after midnight, the lights went out and the curtain came up. With no announcement, the new model Garcia Band opened with a slow "I'll Take A Melody."

Let's set the scene: Garcia has made his jittery Friday night audience wait a few extra hours, and opened with a slow ballad, seemingly a recipe for frustrating the crowd. Yet Jerry was Jerry. The curtain came up, and there were two unexpected--to me--female vocalists covering the harmonies, and the anticipated yet still unexpectedly dramatic sight of Phil Lesh tucked back in John Kahn's space near the drums. When Jerry got into the first solo, he had the crowd in the palm of his hand, and all the waiting and frustration was immediately washed away. I saw my share of Garcia shows, but I'll never forget that moment. The full two-set show ended after 2:30am, very late for a BGP concert, but I didn't care, and neither did Bill, apparently. Sic Transit Gloria Jerome.

Sandy Hurvitz's debut album, Sandy's Album Is Here At Last, released on Verve Records in 1969. It was produced by chief Zappa henchman Ian Underwood, and featured many Mothers Of Invention. Hurvitz, now better known as Essra Mohawk, was a part-time member of the Mothers Of Invention in the summer of '67
Notes from Essra Mohawk
Although the June Warfield JGB was the shape of things to come, in fact there were many changes to follow. Tutt would replace Daoud Shaw on drums, which had always been planned, so when Shaw left, his wife departed too, which must also have been anticipated. She was replaced by Julie Stafford, another thread to be unraveled. When last sighted, Ms Stafford was a real estate agent in Georgia, and little is known about how she was recruited into the Garcia Band or her tenure there. However, very recently, Essra Mohawk was interviewed by Jake Feinberg, and she had some interesting tidbits about playing with the Garcia Band in 1981.

Essra Mohawk only sang with the Garcia Band for twelve dates in the Summer of 1981, all in the Bay Area. Although she got the gig because her husband was the drummer, in fact she is a very interesting musician and songwriter, with a pedigree that extends long before and after her brief Garcia Band stint in 1981. Essra Mohawk, originally Sandy Hurvitz of Philadelphia, had made an album on Verve Records in 1969 that was supervised by Frank Zappa. Hurvitz had hung out with the Mothers Of Invention in the Summer of 1967 when they had played the Garrick Theater, where she sometimes sat in, and was given the stage name of "Uncle Meat." The Mothers had started playing the Garrick right when the Dead began their two-week run in June of 1967 at the Cafe AuGoGo, in the same Greenwich Village building as the Garrick. John Perry Barlow reunited with Weir then, and he has cryptically mentioned a trip to Millbrook with Weir, Lesh and Hurvitz. Feinberg unraveled a few other interesting details (my transcriptions are paraphrased):
--Lived up in Mendocino for a while, Went out [to San Francisco] in '67. Became friends with the Grateful Dead, they said come to Monterey Pop Festival, went to Monterey Pop with Linda Ronstadt. Went to San Francisco with a high school friend, missed the Monterey Pop festival [sic-self contradiction], ended up at some free hippie fest. Hung out in Haight Ashbury
--Buddies with Bob Weir, and Phil Lesh and I were an item for a minute
--John Kahn knew my husband, Dauod Shaw, the original SNL drummer and played with Van for 10 years, and Jerry's drummer was on tour or out of town and Daoud went to fill in
--Liz [Stires] wouldn't take any of the high notes I had the range and she didn't
--I'm from Philly, if you're on stage and you're a woman, you dance and you do steps
--you don't stand there like a stick, like she did
--she complained about me dancing. I thought women that looked good on stage should dance. How can you inspire the audience if you're not grooving?
--she actually complained and I was told to stop dancing
I do recall that in the 1981-82 version of the JGB, with Liz Stires and Julie Stafford, both women would leave the stage when the band started to solo. The most interesting detail that arises from the Essra Mohawk interview, however, was that for the few shows that Phil Lesh ever played with the Jerry Garcia Band, his ex-girlfriend and her husband were in the band. To be fair, it was 14 years later, and I don't think it was a deep and lasting relationship or anything, but it's still a funny rock and roll story.
Although initially begun as a Jerry Garcia Band project in Fall 1981, Run For The Roses was ultimately released as a Jerry Garcia solo album on Arista Records in November 1982



Coda
The Jerry Garcia Band continued on until 1995, very much along the path that had been laid out in June of 1981, save for the rhythm piano. Melvin Seals swirling organ, the soulful female harmonies and the spare, flexible drumming were integral to the sound up until the very end. Ron Tutt returned to the Garcia Band in October 1981, but things weren't the same. Not with the music--Tutt was still the gold standard for drummers. Yet when Tutt found out that Melvin Seals was a Christian, he pulled him aside and told him that they had to do something to rescue Jerry from the perils of his drug use. Now, this was a sincere, Christian thing to do, but even the mighty Ron Tutt could not pull that off. After the 1981 tour, Tutt mostly worked with Neil Diamond, and never returned to the Jerry Garcia Band. Bill Kreutzmann took over the chair until mid-82.

Run For The Roses was finally released in late 1982, the second and last studio album credited to the Jerry Garcia Band. There were only seven tracks on the album, two of them outtakes from the 1974 sessions that produced Compliments Of Garcia, and another track was a needless cover of "Knocking On Heaven's Door." Phil Lesh played one more date with the Garcia Band, apparently a last second booking of a benefit for the Fairfax schools, and never played with them again. No one ever inquired why he had filled in for Kahn in the first place, about dreams that were trying to become real and plans that didn't exactly worked out the way they were intended in the first place.

Appendix 1: June 26, 1981 Fox-Warfield Theatre, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia Band
I: I'll Take A Melody, How Sweet It Is, They Love Each Other, Mississippi Moon, Tangled Up In Blue
II: Mission In The Rain, The Harder They Come, Knockin' On Heaven's Door, Dear Prudence, Midnight Moonlight
(Phil Lesh substitutes for John Kahn)

Appendix 2: August 22, 1981 Fairfax Pavilion, Fairfax, CA: Jerry Garcia Band
I: How Sweet It Is, Mission In The Rain, Sugaree, Tangled Up In Blue
II: I'll Take A Melody, The Harder They Come, Knockin' On Heaven's Door, Midnight Moonlight
(Phil Lesh substitutes for John Kahn)
The Jerry Garcia Band played this last-second benefit for the Fairfax Schools, and Phil Lesh stood in on bass. I don't recall how it was advertised, and it may not have been publicized much at all. I don't know what Garcia's connection to the Fairfax schools might have been. The JGB had played the two previous nights at the Keystone Berkeley, with Kahn on board, so Phil's presence didn't seem like such a big deal. Of course, no explanation has ever been forthcoming as to why Phil was there instead. At the time, I recall thinking that maybe JGB guest appearances by Phil would be like Bill Kreutzmann sitting in, occasional but regular. I was quite wrong.

I should point out that people underestimated Jerry as a bandleader. At the Fairfax show, all but one of the songs he called were ones that Phil had already played with the Garcia Band in June. The other song? "Sugaree." Phil knew that one.

Appendix 3: Run For The Roses-Jerry Garcia
Initial release : November 1982
Arista AL 9603
The second and last studio album credited to the Jerry Garcia Band. Includes two Garcia/Hunter songs and one by Garcia, Hunter and John Kahn.

Tracks
  • Run For The Roses (Jerry Garcia / Robert Hunter)
  • I Saw Her Standing There (John Lennon / Paul McCartney)
  • Without Love (Clyde McPhatter)
  • Midnight Getaway (Jerry Garcia / John Kahn / Robert Hunter)
  • Leave The Little Girl Alone (John Kahn / Robert Hunter)
  • Valerie (Jerry Garcia / Robert Hunter)
  • Knockin' On Heaven's Door (Bob Dylan)
Credits
  • Producer - Jerry Garcia, John Kahn
  • Basic recording - Betty Cantor-Jackson, Ron Malo
  • Overdubs, mixing - Bob Matthews
  • Art - Victor Moscoso
  • Crew - Steve Parish, Harry Popick, George Varra
  • Arrangement - Jerry Garcia, John Kahn, Roger Neuman (horn arrangements on Without Love)
  • Management - Rock Scully, Sue Stephens, Alan Trist
  • Thanks to - Grateful Dead Productions, John Cutler, Willy Legate, Dan Steadman
  • Mastering - George Horn
  • Tracks 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7 recorded at Club Front, San Rafael, September to December 1981
  • Tracks 2 and 3 recorded at Devonshire Studios, Los Angeles, February 1974






18 comments:

  1. Your hypothesis of legal trouble is reasonable, but why do you specifically mention a DUI when it could have been anything? I think that requires a bit more evidence than was presented. I'm not saying you are wrong...just that you seem to be speculating beyond the information that is available.

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  3. I wonder if Phil remembers why he was asked to play. Yes it was a long time ago, but given how rare his appearances were with the JGB, there's a chance he could shed some light.

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  4. June 26, 1981 was a Friday. It says so right on the ticket.

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  5. By the way, thanks for bringing these shows to our attention, I had never heard of them. It's amazing that even more recent shows can in some ways be considered "lost" on some level if they are not widely known.

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  6. The level of academic rigor is generally so high here, and is so throughout the rest of the article, that the unnecessarily over-specific speculation about the cause of Kahn's absence is a strikingly wrong note. I think it's a mistake to include it, personally, as it's unsupportable and distracts from & undermines the quality of the rest of the article. I say this with the greatest respect for your work both in this specific article and generally, and of course you'll do as you see fit.

    By contrast, your speculation about the intent of Garcia and Kahn in constructing the "ideal" JGB is framed in such a way as to constitute a welcome theory for interpretation of the canon through this era. But then any theory which puts forth Ron Tutt as the ideal drummer will have merit in my eyes, as I'm as enamored with him as anyone.

    Just my $0.02 and thanks as always for your work.

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    1. Mr C, I actually agree with you about how my speculation detracts from the academic rigor. However, I've been waiting 35 years.

      The point of my speculation was to suggest that there was a plausible explanation that did not require a leap of faith or a vast conspiracy. While DUIs are nothing to be proud of, they do happen, and Kahn had no known history of being an unsafe driver in general. If the cops stopped him for a busted tail light and he had a car full of smoke, well, that's what might occur.

      Rather than making a point of saying "what could have been the reason?' and implicitly encouraging the speculation in the Comments, I wanted to put the stake in the ground myself.

      The real point of the post was to assert that this was the first "new model" JGB and yet was never recognized as such.

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  7. That being said, no one with any knowledge of the scene would be surprised at all to find out Kahn was doing a little hokey pokey time

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  8. Scurrilous speculation, your honor! Not needed in otherwise fine treatise.

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  9. You didn't emphasize it in this post, but it's worth recalling that (most of) the Dead had played two acoustic benefits in spring '81, where John Kahn played instead of Phil Lesh - 4/25/81 at the Berkeley Community Theater, and 5/22/81 at the Fox-Warfield.
    Then a month later, we find Phil playing instead of John at a few JGB shows.
    Coincidence?

    I wonder if it's also relevant that these three June shows where Phil substituted were all Bill Graham presentations - Sherwood Hall in Salinas, the Civic Aud in Santa Cruz, and the Fox-Warfield in SF.
    Coincidence?

    One witness on dead.net remembers Bill Graham being at the 5/22/81 benefit, though I have no confirmation - perhaps you'd remember. At any rate, the bassist switch could've been something hatched up with Graham around that time.

    While there's a hidden tale here, I suspect it may be more of an inside joke or a brief trade than due to any of Kahn's delinquencies.

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  10. My memory is knowing in advance Phil was playing in Fairfax as I brought a number of friends over from Berkeley. I may have learned at the Keystone the night before or more likely from some flyer somewhat in advance.

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  12. You are wrong to suggest that nobody remembers the Specials. Maybe not in the Bay Area, but down south (and presumably elsewhere) they have played several gigs in the last few years, some very high profile. Apart from some very well sold club/theater dates, they played at Coachella in 2010, and about three weeks ago they were the Saturday night headliner at the inaugural Music Tastes Good festival in Long Beach.

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    1. Excellent! Glad to hear they are still walking tall.

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    2. Yeah, I've seen them a couple of times, including the Music tastes Good show, and they are really fun. The current line up features three original members--drummer John Bradbury died in late December, a couple days after Lemmy and a few days before David Bowie, so that news probably didn't get the prominence it should have.

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