Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Matrix, San Francisco February 1969 High Country with Jerry Garcia and David Nelson

The Matrix, at 3138 Fillmore Street in San Francisco, was the original hippie hangout, even before their were hippies. Founded by Marty Balin and his father, the club provided a place to play for the newly-formed Jefferson Airplane on August 13, 1965. Numerous other groups either debuted or made their San Francisco debut there, such as Big Brother and The Holding Company (on January 10, 1966). The Matrix was also a clubhouse and hangout for what few underground pothead musicians were around at the time. As the scene expanded, and the Fillmore and Avalon became major venues, the Matrix became as a hangout as much as a club. Although The Matrix only served beer and pizza, hippies were very much not welcome at many establishments, and in any case it took a while for rock music to become the dominant form of music in San Francisco nightclubs, so the Matrix was the best small place in the City for rock.

Fortunately for rock fans, Matrix co-owner Peter Abrams recorded just about every performance at The Matrix, which is why so many tapes from the club circulate. Due to the expense of reel-to-reel tape, Abrams could not preserve every single performance, but he made an effort to preserve the best ones, and fans of many groups have benefited. Jerry Garcia played the Matrix in many odd incarnations from 1968 to 1971, and many interesting tapes circulate. One of the most interesting tapes that has circulated over the years is dated Wednesday, February 19, 1969. Garcia plays banjo with the East Bay bluegrass group High Country, his only recorded bluegrass performance between 1964 and 1973.

When I initially wrote this post, I focused on the fact that High Country were not scheduled for February 19, 1969 at The Matrix (Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady with Weird Herald were booked). It has since been pointed out to me that the Dead definitely played the Fillmore West on February 19, 1969, so the date has to be incorrect. However, this wouldn't be the first time that Matrix tapes represented the correct week but not necessarily the exact date. I think this is a result of the owners selecting the best performances and then taping over the others, with a less-than-ideal result for marked boxes. Since Jerry Garcia was booked for February 24 and 26 (with Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzmann in "Mickey Hart and The Hartbeats") I have to presume now that High Country was playing an opening set for one of these gigs.

Although Garcia is plainly audible between songs (discussing what numbers to play, and so on), the tape circulated for many years with constantly incorrect performer information. Many people including myself thought that it featured Peter Rowan on vocals and David Grisman or Frank Wakefield on mandolin. In fact, this was just bluegrass naivete: the group performs standards that every bluegrass player would know, and on the Bill Monroe numbers singer Butch Waller evokes Monroe, just as Rowan did. Waller was the mandolinist as well, as Grisman was in a rock band on the East Coast at the time (Earth Opera, with Rowan), and Wakefield would not meet Garcia for several more years.

Eventually someone played the tape for David Nelson, who explained who really was playing. High Country was a bluegrass band that had formed in late 1968 in Berkeley. Leaders Butch Waller (mandolin) and Rich Wilber (bass, guitar) teamed with Rick Shubb (banjo) and his girlfriend Markie Sanders (guitar). Shubb was a Palo Alto roommate and friend of Garcia's, and an artist who had done some posters for the Carousel Ballroom. Waller was from the East Bay and had been in an early 60s group called the Westport Singers with Herb Pedersen, and, in the mid-60s,  The Pine Valley Boys with David Nelson, so Waller too went way back with the South Bay bluegrass crowd.

Rick Shubb and his girlfriend moved on, but Waller and Wilber kept the band together with various members for several months, including old pal David Nelson, band-less after The New Delhi River Band had broken up, and fellow former Pine Valley Boy Richard Greene, when he wasn't playing with Sea Train. On this one occasion, at least, Jerry Garcia joined in with Waller, Wilber and David Nelson to play as a bluegrass quartet, fortunately preserved on tape. Bluegrass groups played the Matrix rarely, if at all, but that is only because the hippies who played there weren't playing much bluegrass at the time. Its unclear whether or how much Garcia played with High Country beyond this gig, but in any case the band found new members and continues to thrive today.

(note: since I have revised my view of the date, I have moved my ruminations about Jorma Kaukonen and Billy Dean Andrus elsewhere)


  1. Is there any evidence for the 2/19/69 dating other than the tape? I ask because the GD played the "Celestial Synapse" show on this date, as reported in Rolling Stone from around this time. (I can dig up the exact reference if you'd like.) Many folks are now calling the GD material previously known as "Carousel 6/19/68" (with the really weird chanting stuff and all that) 2/19/69, based, I think, in similarities of the tape to the description of the Celestial Synapse show. I think that's jumping the gun a little bit, but have always wondered what, if any, evidence existed for the 2/19/69 dating of the High Country/JG material other than the tape.

  2. Good point. There is no other date. Now, Matrix dates tend to be approximately correct, but often not precisely correct, I think because of the way tapes were edited down and stored. So, for example, we know that "Mickey And The Hartbeats" (or Jerry Garceeeeah) played The Matrix in October 1968, but we aren't always certain about which night is which.

    Thus its plausible to suggest that while the show probably took place in February 1969, there is good reason to suspect February 19, and that would obviate my question about whether Hot Tuna or Weird Herald canceled.

  3. My Matrix listing is annotated that the origin of this date is a San Francisco Chronicle listing. I am travelling at present and do not have access to the Barbs, but will check on my return.

  4. Having taken a look at the barbs from this window in February there is nothing useful. Tunabase has the same listing for February 19 as I do: "Jorma/Jack, Weird Herald (High Country with Jerry Garcia guesting)". But is so close to mine with the brackets et all that I figure they lifted it of I'll dig some more. I noted a reference to a SF Chronicle article about the "Celestial Synapse" show - that would be interesting to see. Also, apparently 1,500 invites were sent out - how come they haven't surfaced at all?

  5. I also realized that Jorma and Jack played The Bear's Lair on the UC Campus on February 21, two days later, so it does seem like they were playing around that week.

    I'm now leaning towards High Country opening one of the Hartbeats shows (Feb 24 or 26). If the tape box was dated "Week of 2/19/69", then it would explain the date. It opens other questions--did David Nelson play with the Hartbeats? And who played the 25th?

  6. But 2/19/69 being a Wednesday doesn't make that type of labeling likely ...

    Do you know whether Abrams (or anyone) has tape of these 2/69 Hartbeats shows?

  7. I'm not convinced that the Matrix tape labeling was that organized. A lot of tapes were edited and/or recorded over. There seems to be a number of tapes (such as the Oct 68 Hartbeats tapes)that are very hard to date accurately.

    Here's my assumption--there's a tape box that says 2-19-69 (hopefully with Tuna and Herald), and after various edits and so forth, the High Country tape gets spliced out, and a thoughtful engineer looks at the box and writes "Garcia 2-19-69" on the High Country tape. Better than nothing.

    Somebody dated the show as 2-19-69, and it isn't all wrong (High Country only used guests for a few months), but it isn't all right either. There may not have been a Matrix tape from earlier in the week (no one played, or no one memorable) so 2-19 may have been the first 'worthy' event of the week.

  8. FYI, the "Celestial Synapse" write-up from Rolling Stone is available online at

  9. I have to say thanks to JGMF, if I may call you that, for the "Celestial Synapse" link. So Thanks.

    Now - the Matrix Tapes. I can confirm that they exist, that I know who has them, and physically, I know where they are. If we get access, and that is a pretty big if, and if we can then identify some of the "up for grabs" shows, that would be great. My guess is we will get a little access to some of the undocumented shows eventually - and that these will serve to complete lists more than anything else. Those of us who await the December 1965 Warlocks/Dead show may need to wait a little longer - but it does of course exist. The finds (of orgasmic proportions) in the Matrix tapes will unlikely be Dead related.

  10. wow--should we call it 'Marty's Vault'? A December 1965 Warlocks show?

  11. I hope these see the light of day, sometime. They probably aren't commercially viable, so why not just share 'em?

    Casady, Garcia, Hart & Dryden Jam 12/6/1968
    Casady, Garcia et al. Jam 12/18/1968
    Dead Jam 11/30/1968
    Garcia, Bishop & Santana Jam 12/23/1968
    Kooper, Casady, Garcia & Chambers Jam 1/20/1969

  12. And JGMF is just fine by me, Yellow Shark!

  13. What's the source of those dates...GD vaults?

    Al Kooper, then a staff producer at Columbia, hanging out in California and jamming at the Matrix. Very interesting.

    Also, is the "Chambers" drummer John Chambers? He was Elvin Bishop's guy (also in We Five and Loading Zone at various times). On the 12/24/68 tape, "George Chambers" is sometimes listed as the drummer, but I think its John Chambers.

    Also, re the 11-30-68 Matrix jam, weren't the Dead between Chicago (11/28) and Detroit (12/1)?

    All very intriguing

  14. This is from a list of Matrix tapes that I have been shown. Here's the list in chron.

    Jefferson Airplane-1/3/1966
    Grateful Dead-1/7/1966
    Big Brother & The Holding Company-1/10/1966
    Great Society-1/16/1966
    Big Brother & The Holding Company-3/8/1966
    Lightning Hopkins-4/20/1966
    Great Society-6/4/1966
    Great Society-6/7/1966
    Sopwith Camel-6/11/1966
    Great Society-6/28/1966
    Final Solution-7/2/1966
    Country Joe & The Fish-7/13/1966
    Tom Northcutt Trio-7/26/1966
    Sopwith Camel-8/3/1966
    Great Society-8/6/1966
    Blues Project-9/1/1966
    Blues Project-9/5/1966
    Andrew Staples-9/30/1966
    Jefferson Airplane-9/30/1966
    Jefferson Airplane-10/14/1966
    Jefferson Airplane-10/15/1966
    The Only Alternative w/ Mimi Farina-10/22/1966
    Jefferson Airplane-10/25/1966
    Jefferson Airplane-10/26/1966
    Jefferson Airplane-10/27/1966
    Jerry Pond-11/17/1966
    Grateful Dead-11/19/1966
    Grateful Dead-11/29/1966
    Grateful Dead-12/1/1966
    Steve Miller Band-1/27/1967
    Butterfield Blues Band-1/29/1967
    Big Brother & The Holding Company-1/31/1967
    Blues Project-Jefferson Airplane Jam-2/14/1967
    Blues Project-2/15/1967
    Blues Project-2/16/1967
    Quicksilver Messenger Service-3/19/1967
    Chambers Brothers-3/23/1967
    Yellow Brick Road-3/23/1967
    Anonymous Artists of America-3/26/1967
    Howlin' Wolf-4/18/1967
    Howlin' Wolf-4/19/1967
    Howlin' Wolf-4/20/1967
    Blue Cheer-7/13/1967
    Steve Miller Band-7/27/1967
    South Side Sound System-8/30/1967
    Quicksilver Messenger Service-9/16/1967
    Big Brother & The Holding Company-10/3/1967
    Mike Bloomfield-11/18/1967
    Jefferson Airplane-1/30/1968
    Jefferson Airplane-1/31/1968
    Jefferson Airplane-2/1/1968
    J.C. Burris-3/14/1968
    Mandel Band Jam-4/27/1968
    Big Brother & The Holding Company-6/16/1968
    Sandy Bull-6/16/1968
    Butterfield-Steve Miller Jam-6/16/1968
    Steve Miller Band-6/16/1968
    Ten Years After-6/28/1968
    Ten Years After-6/29/1968
    A.B. Skhy-10/3/1968
    Harvey Mandel Band-10/5/1968
    Dead Jam-10/8/1968
    Elvin Bishop Jam-10/9/1968
    Dead Jam-10/10/1968
    Harvey Mandel Band-10/16/1968
    Steve Miller Band-10/28/1968
    Dead Jam-10/30/1968
    Dan Hicks-11/1/1968
    Cold Blood-11/2/1968
    Dan Hicks-11/2/1968
    Sea Train-11/10/1968
    Santana Blues Band-11/13/1968
    Santana Blues Band-11/14/1968
    Mother Earth-11/21/1968
    Mother Earth-11/23/1968
    Elvin Bishop-Harvey Mandel Jam-11/28/1968
    Dead Jam-11/30/1968
    John Winter-12/3/1968
    Sandy Bull-12/4/1968
    John Winter-12/4/1968
    Lightning Hopkins-12/5/1968
    John Winter-12/5/1968
    Casady, Garcia, Hart & Dryden Jam-12/6/1968
    Dan Hicks-12/7/1968
    Winter, Casady, Garcia & Bishop Jam-12/16/1968
    Casady, Garcia et al. Jam-12/18/1968
    Garcia, Bishop & Santana Jam-12/23/1968
    Garcia, Mandel, Chambers et al Jam-12/24/1968
    Mandel-Bishop Jam-12/30/1968
    Jorma Kaukonen-1/2/1969
    Jorma Kaukonen & Jack Casady-1/3/1969
    Jorma Kaukonen & Jack Casady-1/4/1969
    Elvin Bishop Band-1/8/1969
    Beautiful Day-1/15/1969
    Kooper, Casady, Garcia & Chambers Jam-1/20/1969
    Ramblin' Jack Elliott-ND
    Jesse Fuller-ND

  15. This, a slightly different list, and a longer list have circulated for a while. A lot of these shows are clearly misdated and I fear that some may also be from The Fillmore rather than the Matrix - but until someone who is knowledgable in such matters can get access it doubt that we will find out. Some brief comments on the list:

    The Doors were playing The London Fog in Los Angeles during March 1966 - but the dates work for 1967.
    September 30, 1966 - I have the Jefferson Airplane at Winterland and The Andrew Staples at The Matrix.
    October 14/15, 1966 was the weekend that the Jefferson Airplane were migrating from Signe Anderson to Grace Slick and they were playing at The Fillmore with Big Mama Thornton and Butterfield. Both sets on both days were recorded and apparently circulate. It seems implausable that they would also have shown up and played a set at The Matrix, where Lightnin' Hopkins was playing, as well. At the very least one would also expect to see Lightnin' Hopkins listed. So I think these may be the Fillmore tapes - or they are misdated.
    November 19, 1966 saw the Grateful Dead at the Fillmore with James Cotton and Lother & The Hand People. With the Fillmore contracting the bands to play two sets it is unlikley that they would then make it over the the Matrix to play an unscheduled set. But let us assume for a moment that they are able to do so. In such cases (and there are several Fillmore/Matrix mismatches), I would also expect the Matrix's scheduled act to appear on the tape list.
    May 14, 1967 is a well known misdated tape - as the "Early Steppenwolf" album used this misdated Sparrow tape as it's source. The actual date of the show is unknown but either May 9-11 or May 19-21.
    September 16, 1967 QMS were playing two shows at the Jabberwock on this date. It would be great if the location was incorrect on this tape and the date correct - but I fear not.
    June 28/29, 1968 saw Ten Years after at the Fillmore - and I seem to recall Wolfgangs Vault making the tapes, or at least one, available.
    November 30, 1968 - the Grateful Dead were somewhere between Chicago and Detroit - it does not seem plausable that an undocumented Matrix show happened in the couple of days off that they had.
    December 6, 1968 - I have the Grateful Dead listed at the Spectrum in Philly.
    Early February 1969 Jorma/Jack shows are vaguely plausable but it seems much more likely that these are misdated.

    On the plus side someone is making a real effort to obtain access to these tapes - and if he does, I am very confident that it can all be figured out.

  16. This comment has been removed by the author.

  17. Thanks for the notes, Yellow Shark. I have added them to my spreadsheet so that I don't replicate that list w/o the caveats/questions.

    BTW, it wouldn't surprise me at all if there were tapes of other provenance mixed-in here. I was simply relaying what I was given.

    Here's hoping at some point we can analyze these based on the actual recordings!

  18. I can tell you this much, Clarence White plays on this tape. I noticed him first at 27:00(this is my first listen). No doubt...listen at 28:40....also, two banjo's on the last two songs.....

  19. Whoa! That would be something....the only Jerry/Clarence session on tape.
    I'm not so sure it's Clarence, though. It's very doubtful, for a few reasons:

    There are only three guitar 'solos' in the tape that I've found - Soldier's Joy, a short one in Swing Low, and Bluegrass Breakdown - good, fluent flatpicking.
    In all the other tracks, the guitar plays strictly support & never solos.
    It would be insane to have Clarence White sit in and only give him a couple solos; but I wonder whether the membership on this tape is fluid...if different people are playing guitar on different songs. (It moves around in the mix, too.)
    I couldn't tell. If there are two banjos in the last 2 tracks (which are unfortunately in mono), that would support the idea that this was sort of a bluegrass jam session with other people sitting in.

    Nonetheless, this is the real Clarence on Soldier's Joy -
    Twice the notes, at twice the speed!
    Very different circumstances & more accomplished players, but still, I think the comparison casts doubt that it's Clarence on our Matrix tape.
    Here's also a slower tune to compare with Bluegrass Breakdown:

    That said, Clarence was in San Francisco with the Byrds playing at the Fillmore from February 6-9. However, the Dead were on tour, and by the time they got back (Feb 16), the Byrds were touring on the east coast for the rest of the month.
    It's very unlikely Clarence could have played with Jerry in San Francisco that month.

  20. yep...I think it's David Nelson, not CW....wishful thinking and all that!!!

  21. Is it possible that Sandy Rothman was a player for this performance?

    1. No. In fact, in an email exchange I had with Sandy (some years ago) he identified the various players, so there isn't any doubt

    2. Thanks very much for the timely reply.