Friday, December 4, 2009

The Grateful Dead San Quentin Performances: A Theory

I am assuming that what you are about to read may be somewhat controversial as I am proposing a date for a previously undocumented Grateful Dead/Country Joe and The Fish show and I am proposing that the date of an existing show is incorrectly recorded by Deadbase. So here goes.

We start our little sojourn with this hitherto undated, at least by me, Grateful Dead/Country Joe and The Fish performance that I believe was scheduled for April 11, 1967. The event was organised by The Diggers, although quite how many people would have been available at four in the morning is unclear.

It is my belief that this event was organised as of the planned protests and vigil leading up to the execution of Aaron Mitchell on the morning of April 12, 1967. Having looked through contemporary documentation it is clear that this was a significant event – significant enough to draw the residents of the Bay Area north to the prison gates. When Aaron Mitchell died in San Quentin’s gas chamber he became the first person executed by the state in more than four years and the only person executed during the tenure of Ronald Reagan as State Governor. And you will note the question posed to Mr Reagan at the foot of the handbill - noting that Mr Reagan had stated that he saw capital punishment as a deterrent.

Reviews of the events of the previous 24 hours identified a lot of comings and goings at the prison with 250 protesters present at the time of the 10:00am execution and records of a lone harmonica player, a hippie band on a flatbed truck, and all of the church bells peeling at the time of the execution. As the item is undated I considered a number of other options that might have led the Diggers to organise such a protest – but none seemed significant enough or provide a good fit the timescales – between January and August 1967 – and more realistically between March and June 1967.

The handbill was printed by the Communication Company – who operated as the communications arm of the Diggers between January and August 1967. ComCo used their Gestetner 366 stencil duplicator (that was borrowed from the offices of Ramparts by Chester Anderson) to produce something of the order of 900 separate flyers during their brief existence. By June of 1967 Chester Anderson, together with his partners Claude and Helene Hayward, was being eased out of ComCo and on August 15 he was formally banned from entering the premises at all.

I also took a look at the schedules of both bands for the week – the Grateful Dead playing the Panhandle on the afternoon of April 9 and Longshoreman’s in the evening and on April 12 they played the Busted Mime Troupe Benefit before heading of to Los Angeles. More significantly, this was the Week of The Angry Arts part of the Spring Mobilization against the war in Vietnam and one of the busiest in the history of Country Joe and The Fish:

09 April 1967 - Longshoreman's Hall, San Francisco, CA: Country Joe and The Fish, Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Sopwith Camel, Big Brother and the Holding Company [Week of the Angry Arts, Vietnam Mobilization]
11 April 1967 - San Quentin Prison, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead, Country Joe and The Fish (protest and Vigil Leading up to the execution of Aaron Mitchell on April 12)
13 April 1967 - California Hall, San Francisco, CA: Country Joe and The Fish, Serpent Power, Wildflower and poets: Kenneth Patchen, Lew Welch, Robert Duncan, Lenore Kandel, Dave Meltzer, Tom Parkinson, George Stanley, James Broughton, Jeff Shepphard [Joyful Alternative]
14 April 1967 - [Afternoon Performance] Panhandle Park, San Francisco, CA: Country Joe and The Fish, The Fugs
14 April 1967 - [Evening Performance] Panhandle Park, San Francisco, CA: Country Joe and The Fish, The New Age, Mad River, All Night Apothecary, The Groop, Morning Glory, The Moebills, Richard Brautigan [Candle Opera - A night time, Diggers sponsored free show, arranged as part of Spring Mobilization] The Grateful Dead and Big Brother & the Holding Company had also been invited to perform.
14 April 1967 – [Late Performance] Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA: Country Joe and The Fish, Howlin’ Wolf, Loading Zone
15 April 1967 - [Afternoon Show] Kezar Stadium, San Francisco, CA: Country Joe and The Fish, Judy Collins, Big Brother & The Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Steve Miller Band. Also appearances from Julian Bond, Eldridge Cleaver, Morris Evenson, Rabbi Abraham Feinberg, David Harris, and Mrs. Martin Luther King, Robert Vaughn (of "Man From Uncle" fame) and Robert Scheer (syndicated columnist) [Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam] "They used Joe and the band as electrified pied-pipers, playing from the back of a truck to draw the marchers down Market Street, through the city’s financial district and then to the stadium. Once the crowd of 75,000 was inside, the truck pulled outside, band still aboard, so speechifying by the likes of Julian Bond, Robert Scheer and Eldridge Cleaver could begin. “We carried our equipment back in and demanded the right to play. We were told we could play two songs but they pulled the plug on us after one and then we went home,” Joe recalls. “… I don’t think it was ever their idea to have us play at the main part of that event.” 15 April 1967 - Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA: Country Joe and The Fish, Howlin’ Wolf, Loading Zone
16 April 1967 - Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA: Country Joe and The Fish, Howlin’ Wolf, Loading Zone

Assuming the San Quentin show went ahead, I concluded that April 11, 1967 fits best because of the involvement of both bands with the Diggers during a week of protest, the significant event at San Quentin, and the other facts fitting well as explained above. I wasn’t going to mention it, but the handbill urges people to bring raw meat and this could well be a reference to the impending event at San Quentin.

February 15, 1968 - San Quentin Prison, San Francisco, CA Country Joe and The Fish, Grateful Dead, Phoenix and members of the Jefferson Airplane. I have never really understood why the February 15, 1968 is more often than not misdated as March 7, 1968. Deadbase and both misdate this show as being on March 7 – and I would guess that the erroneous entry in Deadbase is the reason many other lists are incorrect. There is plenty of evidence supporting the February 15 date: (a) a mention at the end of the February 14 Valentine’s Day show at the Carousel that both bands would be playing for free outside San Quentin the following afternoon; (b) contemporary reports regarding the performances (c) photographs of the performers; (d) memories of a number of the performers; (e) and not least, Country Joe and The Fish were in New York on March 7.

On the basis of this evidence, I am very confident that the March 7 date is incorrect and the February 15 is correct.


  1. I find the arguments for both dates extremely convincing. The only open question is which musicians actually played.

    The wording of the April 11, 1967 says "musicians from" various bands will jam, so we don't know who exactly played yet. Did all these bands rehearse at Sausalito Heliport at the time. Who were the "Mobius Band" by the way?

    The February 16, 1968 article identifies the Grateful Dead, but I think it may not have been all of them. Don't we have an account from Jef Jaisun (Phoenix bassist)? I think it was an ongoing jam session with various players cycling in and out, and I think Jerry Garcia and Jack Casady were both there.

    I feel extremely confident that these are both Garcia dates, but it remains to be seen if they are Grateful Dead dates.

  2. I agree with your comment. For April - I think "Mobius band" could be either be descriptive or some vague link to something along the lines of the Jook Savages. If Country Joe & The Fish played it would more than likely be all five of them - and I have the question out at present. For the Grateful Dead - there are photographs of Weir and Garcia for the February 15 bash and I did dig out the comments from the guys in Phoenix. I am hoping for an update soon.

  3. The response I have is that it was indeed to do with Aaron Mitchell; that Country Joe and The Fish all (probably) showed up late afternoon; that members of the Dead were there - but not entirely certain who; Sandy Bull was there as was David Freiberg and possibly others from Quicksilver. It is also suggested that a couple of folk from Big Brother passed through in the couple of hours our intrepid traveller stayed there.

    I appreciate that this does not really address any of the issues and leaves even more open ends - but it is a contemporary review from a trust worthy source. Ross

  4. This isn't directly relevant to the issue of San Quentin nor the dates of GD performances there, but since you mention this week of April 1967 I thought I'd mention that I list a GD performance in the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park on Sunday, April 9, 1967. This is based on a narrative in Charles Perry's The Haight-Ashbury (New York: Wenner Books, 2005), p. 171.

    I mention it here for the record and also because Perry's narrative fits well into the picture that you paint of that particular week.

  5. There's a mention of 2/15/68 in the following: Dial Torgerson, "Hippies Parade," Los Angeles Times, February 16, 1968, p. 19.

  6. Your post states: "By June of 1967 Chester Anderson, together with his partners Claude and Helene Hayward, was being eased out of ComCo and on August 15 he was formally banned from entering the premises at all."

    Do you know what the circumstances were surrouding Chester's banishment? After all he had done for the Diggers with his Communication Company publications, it must have been something serious?

    1. Apologies for the tardiness of my replay. In May 1967 CA moved teh Communications Company, without notice, to Arguello Blvd and this miffed the Diggers who demanded they have full access to the equipment and it be moved to the Digger Free Store (trip without a ticket). CA tried to size the equipment but his coup failed. Claude Hayward sided with the Diggers and Anderson was ousted. On August 15 Anderson announced the split from the Diggers in a 6-page publication. Anderson immediately left San Francisco for the East Coast.

  7. I just listed a similar but different handbill for the same event on Ebay; the link is here. I'm not trying to drum up business, just wanted to add to your excellent scholarship.

    all the best, Jeff Gold

  8. Jeff, thanks for the link to the interesting alternative handbill (which I assume was a Communications Company publication)

  9. Another great Communications Company handbill Jeff. It would be really great to pull together a complete list sometime. I am also comfortable with the original date I proposed in the blog for this event - and that it was tied to the execution of Aaron Mitchell. Ross

  10. There's a great memoir by a French rock journalist, Alain DISTER, based on his time living in San Francisco for a few years starting in autumn 1966. His dating of the 1968 places it to earlier, in two respects. First, he says that it was the day or the day after Neal died (2/4/68). Second, consistently but seemingly independently, he notes that Phil Lesh had stayed in Oregon after the gigs up there. This would seem to put it between the end of the Quick and the Dead tour and the Carousel gig on Valentine's Day.

    But the two contemporary reports (they do indeed seem to be independent to me) tell me he must be conflating those things, which all happened within 11 days of each other.

    Oh yeah, one more tidbit, since he attended the San Quentin gig. Having perhaps been mistaken about the reasons for which Phil was absent, he says that Bob Weir played bass! Having read his book (I am about half through annotating it), I find him pretty credible, the occasional confusion notwithstanding.

    UPI. 1968. Hippies Support Quentin Paper. Hayward Daily Review, February 16, 1968, p. unk, scan via Hannan 2009.
    Torgerson, Dial. 1968. Strike Call Fizzles at San Quentin. Los Angeles Times, February 16, 1968, 19.
    Dister, Alain. 2007. Grateful Dead: Une l├ęgende californienne. Paris: Le Castor Astral.

    Dister 2007, 150-151.

  11. You implicitly make the point that exactly zero research has been done on first person narratives of San Francisco in the sixties not written in English. Generally speaking, the sort of person from foreign country who might have spent some time in San Francisco in the mid-sixties have an infinitely greater likelihood of having produced some kind of memoir.

  12. A photo of the San Quentin 2/15/68 gig has surfaced which shows Garcia & Weir - and Weir is indeed playing a bass! (It looks like a borrowed Les Paul bass, not the kind Phil played.)

    1. I have seen yet another photo of this show, with Garcia, Weir and Nick Gravenites. I guess Nick was playing guitar so Bob had to play bass.

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