Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Pre August 1967-Mickey Hart

The chance meeting between Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann is a foundational story of Grateful Dead cosmology . According to Dennis McNally (and everyone else), Mickey Hart was at the Fillmore on August 20 or 21, 1967 to hang out with his friend Sonny Payne, the drummer for Count Basie (co-billed that night with Charles Lloyd). A stranger introduced Hart and Kreutzmann, and then disappeared. Billy and Mickey hit it off, went over to the Matrix to see Big Brother and The Holding Company, and started hanging out together.

Hart was invited to Grateful Dead rehearsals, but could never find the warehouse (actually the Potrero Theater on 308 Connecticut). The first time Hart heard the Dead was when he saw them at the Straight Theatre on September 29, 1967. He was invited to sit in for the second set, and by the end of the night was a member of the band. It’s a great story, and one of the many magical moments of Grateful Dead history. Nonetheless, sitting in with the Grateful Dead on no notice takes a hell of a musician, which Mickey Hart surely was (and remains)—it seems logical to think he played music with other bands after leaving the Air Force in 1965 and before joining the Grateful Dead in September 1967. For all the many interviews that Hart has done, I am not aware of any information from him about who he played with.

McNally outlines the basic story (p.222-224): Hart grew up in Brooklyn and Long Island, estranged from his drummer father, Lenny Hart. Hart played a lot of music in the Air Force from 1961-65, and managed to get in touch with his father, who invited him to help run a drum-centered music store in San Carlos, California. Mickey helped manage the store (called Drum City, on 894 Laurel Street in San Carlos) and practiced drumming, but I find it difficult to believe that he didn’t play with other musicians. Let’s face it: mediocre drummers who are absolutely stone crazy usually have more offers of gigs than they can manage, so sensible, friendly guys who are fantastic, versatile drummers have to be in great demand.

I’ve only found one reference to Mickey’s pre-Dead Bay Area career, and Hart himself has never mentioned it. Around late 1965/early 1966, Hart joined a San Mateo group called William Penn And His Pals. Even more remarkably, he was the second drummer, presaging his future. Hart seems to have left the band in short order, however, before organist Gregg Rolie joined (pre-Santana Blues Band) and they recorded their garage classic “Swami.” The fact that William Penn And His Pals, a pretty successful local band, wore Tri-Corner hats and pseudo-Revolutionary War garb, like Paul Revere and The Raiders, has to have been an unappealing memory to someone with Grateful Dead sensibilities.

Since Hart was introduced to the Dead by a stranger, no one in or around the band had any idea who he might have played with prior to joining them. His only pre-Dead association was his father Lenny, the band’s manager from 1969-71, which ended very badly, so no one around him knew his background. This meant that Hart was in a position to control his own story, and while he seems to have enjoyed describing his childhood, his grandmother, his struggles in High School and his time in the Air Force, hart has left a blank in his musical career from 1965 to 1967. I grant that as store manager he may not have had time to tour with bands, but I remain certain that he played with a variety of Bay Area groups, probably in the South Bay, and I remain very curious as to who they might have been.


  1. the august '67 thing with kreutzmann is interesting background re:hart joining the dead, but when did he first meet the dead? was it in april while filming the stretcher scene of Petulia? a little hard to believe he wasn't interested in hearing their music after hanging out with them on that set.

  2. sfexpress, this is very interesting. Do you have a source on Hart meeting the Dead on the set of Petulia? Very interesting indeed.

  3. While I don't have the movie on-hand, a little searching reveals that, as IMDB states,
    "the hippies who observe Petulia taken out of Archie's apartment on a stretcher are members of the Grateful Dead and their communal entourage."
    Ihor Slabicky also writes that 'Members of
    the band and the office staff appear during the scenes where Julie Christie is
    carried on a stretcher into an ambulance... Appearing, but uncredited,
    in the film are: Mickey Hart as "Hippie 2", Phil Lesh as "Hippie
    4", Ron McKernan as "Hippie 5", Danny Rifkin as "Hippie 6", and Bob Weir as
    "Hippie 7".'
    If Hart was indeed hanging out with the Dead's crowd in April '67, and this wasn't a coincidence, perhaps the standard chronology needs rewriting!

  4. I looked into this, and while the Dead's lip-synch to "Viola Lee" seems to have been done in April or May '67, the movie itself was not released until June 1968. The scene with the Grateful Dead as onlookers (they watch a patient, I think Julie Christie, get loaded into an ambulance) could have been filmed by the second unit well after May. Thus its plausible that Hart was in the band by the time the second unit shot the band as onlookers, even if the "performance" was filmed earlier.

  5. To see the scenes we are discussing, the Yellow Shark points us here

    I have a feeling that the people doing IMDB database, while absolutely nails on, say, actors who had bit parts in soap operas who later turn up in the movies, are not as knowledgeable about 60s rock bands. Until I see a picture of Hart, or get a confirmation from someone I trust, I'm not persuaded he's in the shot.

  6. I'm not so certain this scene would have been filmed 5-6 months later (that's a long time to tie up a star like Julie Christie in location shooting - she was in England filming Far From the Madding Crowd in late summer/fall 1967, hence presumably not too available for San Francisco reshoots).
    And while it seems a long time between the April '67 filming & June '68 release, that was paralleled by Lester's previous film How I Won the War - filmed in fall 1966, interrupted to start Petulia, and edited for an October 1967 release.

    I would further point out that by mid-summer 1967, Jerry had sideburns - the way he looks in the film is his early '67 look, making a later filming date for that scene most unlikely.

    Until someone rechecks the scene on film, I suspect it's more likely Hart was absent & misidentified.
    It doesn't inspire much confidence, for example, that the IMDB list fails to note Jerry Garcia among the hippie crowd, even though he's front & center! It's also telling that the ReelSF site mistakes Weir for Lesh...

    From another site: 'Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead also appear, in separate party scenes. Janis looks and sounds great, but the Dead sound awful. Later, Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir join a crowd scene on the Filbert Steps; when Christie’s body is pulled by on a stretcher, Weir gets this dumb look on his face and says, “Bye-bye, mama.”'

  7. I have Petulia on VHS, and put it on this afternoon. There are a bunch of people in the scene in question. I definitely saw Jerry, Bob, Pigpen, Phil and Danny. I think Rock is there, too. I didn't see Mickey though.
    On this forum some people say Mickey is in it. Although in a different shot the guy they're referring to looks a little more Mickey-like, I don't think the clean-shaven guy in the brown fez and sunglasses is him.

  8. Chico, this confirms what I thought. I respect all the great stuff on IMDB, but I can hardly tell the difference between Julie Christie and Jean Shrimpton, so some film freak's knowledge of Mickey Hart circa 1967 can't be so certain either.

    This has still been an interesting discussion, however. Thanks to SFexpress for reminding me that the GD even appeared in Petulia.

  9. Michael Hinton (in Troy 1991, 213) talks about being Mickey's drum student, initially from the Hart Music Center in San Carlos. Then he says "Mickey moved in my home after I knew him for about a year and a half. He had split up ownership of the music store with his dad. ... This was 1966. So Mickey moved into my house and lived there for about a year", as a very intense-sounding teacher-student arrangement.

    Hinton also recounts the Hart-Kreutzmann meeting - I guess he was there!

    "One day we were at the Fillmore Auditorium when Count Basie was playing. We knew Sonny Payne, his drummer, and we were on stage when this guy came up to us and said, "If you're a friend of Sonny's, would you help me get on stage to meet him?" It was Bill Kreutzmann, who was a stranger to us at the time, so Bill met Sonny and hung out for a while. We got talking to Bill later and we played some drums and Bill was impressed and he started studying with Mickey. He started hanging out with us and we became friends. So Bill and Mickey became close and that was how the relationship developed between the Grateful Dead and Mickey."

    Troy, Sandy. 1991. One More Saturday Night: Reflections with the Grateful Dead, Dead Family, and Dead Heads. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

  10. I found a lead!

    Mickey Hart said that when he met Bill Kreutzmann, "I had the drum store in San Carlos, and I had a band. I can't remember the name of it, but Joe Bennett was the lead guitarist - he was from Joe and the Sparkletones."
    (Conversations with the Dead p.249)

    In fact, Joe Bennett played with the Mickey Hart Band again recently!
    "During the mid-1960s, then-Air Force servicemen Bennett and Hart played together in a band called Joe and the Jaguars."
    (A highly recommended read.)

    Apparently, the two first connected when they were in the Air Force in Spain. Bennett said they played in the Jaguars in Madrid:
    "I was a backup musician for Minnie Pearl in Torrejon Air Base, Spain. I had a band in Madrid, Spain called Joe and the Jaguars. Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead was my drummer. We were in the Air Force together. Later, we both went to California and Mickey started a band and I was his guitarist! He has a picture of Joe and the Jaguars in his book "Songcatchers."
    (The thread also includes a photo of Bennett & Hart in their band.)

    And apparently, Joe & the Jaguars released a 7" in Spain in 1964, with Mickey on the cover -

    More info:
    "In 1960 Joe decided to enter the Air Force, where he met Mickey Hartman, a drummer. Their first Air Force assignment was in Spain, where they began doing studio work and backed up some of Spain's top recording artists, including Carina. The duo also recorded solo work on the Hispovacs label under the names of Joe and the Jaguars and The Jaguars.
    When discharged from the service, Joe returned to Spartanburg, S.C., taking a job at Dan Clark's Music Store teaching music. Six months later Mickey Hartman (he'd now changed his last name to Hart) called, asking Joe how things were. "Slow" was the response. Mickey told Joe his father owned a music store in San Carlos, California, and asked Joe to move out there to work in the business with him so they could get something going together again. Joe moved to California but things didn't work out, so he re-enlisted in the Air Force. Mickey Hart went on to become one of the drummers in the Grateful Dead.
    Joe volunteered for a tour of duty in Viet Nam, and was stationed there in December 1966."

    If the timing's right, then Joe & Mickey would have parted ways a year before Mickey met the Dead.

    It's worth mentioning that Mickey did not primarily play rock music before the Dead. McNally says that while in the Air Force he "drummed in small combos, a marching band, and what-have-you;" Jackson says that when he was in Spain he played "big band jazz by night."
    Discharged in 1965, "he returned to Long Island, hoping to make it as a drummer in New York. He got fired from the first and only job he landed through the New York musicians' union - filling in for a drummer in a staid fox-trot band."
    Mickey said that when he was hanging out with Sonny Payne, "I featured myself as a big-band drummer then."
    Though the details remain vague, perhaps we're more likely to find Mickey passing through local big-band jazz acts than in rock bands.

  11. LIA, this is completely amazing. I read all the links--fantastic. And Joe Bennett And The Sparkletones did the original version of "Black Slacks," which is a rockabilly classic.

    I think you make an excellent point that Mickey was not particularly a rock player prior to the Dead, and probably saw himself as a big band drummer. Big bands were the high powered musical ensembles of the 50s (Stan Kenton, etc), so it oddly fits Mickey's predelictions, as well as explaining his friendship with Sonny Payne.

    I think you are very right, I was looking in the wrong place for Mickey Hart, he probably only played rock once in a while prior to the Dead. Thanks again for these great links--you realize this means that Mickey recorded before any other member of the Dead? Great stuff.

  12. I didn't know his real last name was Hartman.

  13. Yes - per McNally, "Hartman had followed his father's lead and changed his name when he got out of the service."

    In Hart's interview in Swing 51 (issue 13), he said of his pre-Dead period:
    "I was hanging out with Sonny Payne, who was the drummer with Count Basie. I played jazz. I played with Gerry Mulligan a little bit; I played some gigs with him in Europe. I was into big band... I had to make money after-hours...that's how I made my way when I was younger - by playing 'casuals,' we call them, lame little functions with odd bands... But it was a living and I was young and it was the only way you could do it. There was no rock 'n' roll then, or rock 'n' roll was just starting."

    It's very vague just what time period he's talking about, but at least there's a name - gigs with Gerry Mulligan in Europe. Mulligan was a big enough figure in jazz that it's surprising a young unknown like Mickey would have played with him. Perhaps it was a brief pickup-band type occasion, presumably during (or just after) his time in the Air Force.

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    1. Oscar, it is thanks to your blog comment from the other day that there is an Internet stir over Joe And The Jaguars. I sent the comment to numerous people, including DG, and everyone is pretty excited.

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  20. JGMF has unearthed a few more details from a 1972 Warner Brothers Circular with a Mickey interview:

    According to Mickey, the Air Force band he was in "was called the Airmen of Note, but it was really the old Glenn Miller band." When he was stationed in Europe, he was a judo instructor to keep pilots in shape: "By day in Europe Mickey taught combative measures, but by night in places like Paris he'd hang out and play with Gerry Mulligan and Count Basie and whoever else was in whatever city."
    As JGMF notes, we have only Mickey's word on these fabled jazz connections - there might not be any independent confirmation that he played with Gerry Mulligan or Count Basie.
    However it is reported that he was friends with Count Basie's drummer Sonny Payne (see JGMF's 12/28/13 comment above) - Blair Jackson writes that "they hung out together whenever the Basie band was on the west coast" - and they must have met somewhere.

    When Mickey was running the music store, "one of his best-paid assignments was teaching the girls of Mary Knoll school in Los Angeles (they flew him down once a week) to play the drums for their marching band," and he took part in a state competition with them in Bakersfield. (Of course Mickey says he won, despite not practicing in months.)

    The article also refers to Bill Kreutzmann as one of Mickey's "pupils": "We were playing every day for about two weeks at the store and he asked me to come and sit in at the Straight Theater dance classes where the Dead were playing, so I went by one night. That was it. I was in the Dead."

    There's a well-known story that when Bill took Mickey to see Janis & Big Brother after they met, Mickey was totally surprised by the music. (Sonny Payne left since it was too noisy.) Evidently Mickey had not kept up with the local rock scene since his days with William Penn in '65, and it may well be that he hadn't played with any other rock groups since then.

  21. The Joe and the Jaguars Hispavox 45 has turned up as 320 mp3 at

  22. When I was in junior high school I started taking drum lessons from Mickey and his dad, Lenny Hart. They had a music store called Drum City down in San Carlos, CA and our junior high school band teacher knew them. I probably had more lessons with Lenny than Mickey and there were several other instructors there too. Lenny was the Dead’s first manager but ended up embezzling from the band and ended up in prison. That’s when Mickey left the band for a while over his dad’s shenanigans.

    I was just starting to play on a drum set and didn’t have a floor tom yet and I complained to Mickey that I didn’t have one. He told me he didn’t use his a lot other than as a table for a glass of milk when he was practicing! As a 13 year old kid I actually believed him!!

    The last lesson I had was with Lenny one day. I mentioned to him that my mom had bought me a new high hat for my set. He asked where I got it and I told him Stewart Music in San Mateo where I lived. After the lesson, he asked me to ask my mom to come into the store as he wanted to talk to her. I went out to the car where my mom was waiting and told her Mr. Hart wanted to talk to her. She went into the store and I got in the car to wait. Pretty soon, she came out and she was PISSED! Apparently Lenny started giving her a hard time for buying from a different music store. They apparently got into it and when she got into the car she told me that was my last drum lesson from Drum City. I ended taking lessons for awhile in San Mateo after that!

    One cool thing that they had in their store that I was always impressed with was a snare drum that had been signed by Ringo Starr!