Saturday, May 22, 2010

March 5, 1972 Winterland, San Francisco: Yogi Phlegm with Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh

Winterland, the one time ice palace at Post and Steiner in San Francisco, looms large in the history of rock and in the imagination of Deadheads. The 5400 capacity hall (built in 1928 as The New Dreamland Rink) was only used for the largest shows in the 1960s, those too large for the Fillmore (capacity 1500) or the Fillmore West (capacity 2500). As a result, Winterland hosted some of the most legendary rock shows of the 1960s. When the Fillmore West closed in July, 1971, Bill Graham Presents ultimately took over the lease on Winterland until the building itself was closed in 1978. Thus many of the most memorable acts of the 1970s played at Winterland as well, hosted by Bill Graham, and as a result the old arena became a sort of wormhole to the 1960s. Winterland was kind of a dump, truth be told, but bands had been playing there for so long that all its attributes had been assessed, so everybody sounded great. It was a dump, yes, but it was our dump.

On March 5, 1972 a benefit was held for the Indians at Alcatraz (another fascinating digression I can't get into here). The bill was Grateful Dead/New Riders of The Purple Sage/Yogi Phlegm. Although the show was a benefit, it was a Bill Graham Presents production. The Fillmore West had closed on July 4, 1971, and after his usual threats Graham had continued to produce shows in the Bay Area. In the late 1971/early 1972 period, BGP was putting on shows about every other weekend at Winterland. By mid-summer, there were shows almost every weekend. There were a number of interesting, if somewhat unrelated facts about the March 5, 1972 show that are worthy of consideration, so I will link them together here.

Yogi Phlegm with Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh
Although the Grateful Dead were still scrambling financially in 1972, they were bona fide rock stars by any standard. The Dead had been local heroes and underground sensations when the Haight Ashbury scene broke through in 1967, but that hadn't been accompanied by substantial record sales or radio play. By 1972, however, the Dead had had two successful albums (Workingman's Dead and American Beauty) that had received substantial airplay on FM radio stations across the country, and in September 1971 they had just released their live double lp (known colloquially as "Skull and Roses") which became their first gold album.

Self-effacing Jerry Garcia was the Dead's "frontman," however much he wanted to be just another band member. If his epic guitar skills were not reason enough, his thoughtful and articulate comments in many interviews combined with his genial demeanor to make him seem like a smart, friendly hippie who would be fun to hang out with and just happened to be a rock star. Garcia had released his first solo album in January 1972, and tracks like "Deal" and "The Wheel" received significant FM airplay as well. Although Garcia seemed to shy away from mansions and Hollywood, there was no way to deny the fact that in San Francisco or anywhere else "Jerry Garcia" was an event in himself.

Yogi Phlegm was the new name for the reconstituted Sons of Champlin. The Sons, a tremendous band from Marin who had never put the pieces together, had broken up in mid-1970 under complex circumstances in which the band members believed they did not have the rights to their band's name. When they reformed later in 1970, they had only 5 members and no horn section, and they were performing new, jazzier material that was less heavily arranged than their previous incarnation. Fans and promoters (particularly Bill Graham) hated the comical Yogi Phlegm name, and most referred to them as The Sons of Champlin anyway. The band, always ahead of its time, now played soulful rock music with wide-open Mahavishnu Orchestra-style instrumental passages that even San Francisco audiences were hardly ready for, so the group continued to struggle despite their talent.

With all this in mind, it is surprising indeed to find out that the March 5, 1972 benefit began with Bill Champlin and Bill Vitt of Yogi Phlegm playing with Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh. While Vitt played drums, Champlin sang and played Hammond organ for a couple of jammed out blues, including "Big Boss Man" and "How Blue Can You Get." Jerry Garcia was a rock star by any standard, and a major star in the firmament in San Francisco. Why was he opening his band's show at the biggest rock venue in San Francisco with some casual blues jamming with the opening act?

The story as far as I know it seems to have been that three members of Yogi Phlegm were stuck in traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge, on the way to Winterland. In the era before cell phones, there was no telling where they might have been and when they might arrive. Bill Graham liked to run a tight ship, and he had a complicated love/hate relationship with The Sons--he had always supported the band (in 1969 he loaned them money to buy a truck, for example), but he thought he knew what was best for them, too. Graham probably saw their booking on the bill as a courtesy, and wasn't going to delay the show because three members of the band (guitarist Terry Haggerty, pianist Geoff Palmer and bassist David Schallock) were missing in action. Supposedly Graham blew his stack and told Bill Champlin to find a guitar player and bassist and get on stage and start playing at the appointed time "or else."

It is a sign of Bill Champlin's status as a musician that in his moment of need Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh bailed him out by joining him on stage. Granted, the Sons and the Dead went way back, but its a unique thing indeed for the most famous member of the headlining band to appear with the opening act. Its even more singular in that they just had to fake it, like they were at the Lion's Share in San Anselmo (the musician's bar where they all hung out) instead of at Winterland. Of course, at least once Bill Graham had demanded the Dead go on stage without the late arriving Jerry Garcia (June 6, 1969, when Phil Lesh asked Wayne Ceballos of Aum to deputize for the first several numbers), so Jerry and Phil must have been pretty sympathetic to Champlin's plight, but its still pretty remarkable.

After the brief blues jam, the three Phlegm/Sons members appeared and Jerry and Phil stepped aside. According to the eyewitness on the Archive comments, they played a great set, not surprising given the excellent contemporary tapes of performances that circulate. The blues jam tape floats around as well, less remarkable for its substance than the fact that it happened at all. Only in San Francisco.

I have pieced the Yogi Phlegm-Garcia story together as best I can from various second-hand sources. Anyone with better information or corrections is encouraged to mention them in the Comments. 

Stage Alignment
Winterland looms large in the memory and legend of San Francisco and San Francisco rock fans, particularly Deadheads. I saw my first rock show at a Grateful Dead concert at Winterland in 1972 (for the record, the bus came by and I got on December 12, 1972). Entering the huge, dark arena and seeing the Dead's equipment rising to the ceiling around the stage was a dramatic prelude to what was about to come, and I'm sure my experience was shared by many. Although Winterland was old and run down, so many bands had played there that the sound and lights were all figured out, so every band sounded great in Winterland. Deadheads who never got to go to Winterland have seen the Closing Of Winterland dvd and numerous photos, so its easy to visualize the Dead's Winterland stage configuration.

However, another interesting thing about the March 5, 1972 Winterland show was that there was a completely different stage alignment. The "classic" Winterland stage alignment, and the only one I ever knew from December 1972 onwards, had the stage at the far end of the hall from the entrance, on the narrower Western end of the rectangle (towards Pierce, away from Steiner). The March show, however, had the stage on the North side (towards Sutter, away from Post). This completely re-orients the stage to the center of the long side of the rectangle. Many more people seated in the balcony would be much nearer the stage, and those standing on the floor would end up with a different sightline. I do not know how often this alignment was used, or what its purpose was. The Dead played a one-off show at Winterland on October 9, 1972, and the sideways config was used, but afterwards it was not repeated to my knowledge for any band.

Over the years I have tried to determine whether the sideways configuration was used in the 1960s or any other time prior to 1972. The person who originally told me about the '72 show (hi Tex) thought that it had been used that way "occasionally" before, but he wasn't sure. Given the number of famous 1960s rock shows held at Winterland by Bill Graham and others, I thought I could find a helpful photo, and I completely struck out. I don't just mean of a photo showing 1960s Winterland stage alignment--I mean any photos from Winterland rock shows in the 1960s, none, nada. It is odd how such a legendary hall remains so little documented.

In early 1972, the BGP organization had not yet fully transitioned to having shows at Winterland every weekend. The concern in those days was whether the 5400 capacity Winterland was too large to be filled on a weekly basis. I have to assume that the attempts to re-align the stage were part of some experiments by BGP people to improve the hall, although since we don't know what they were trying to improve (the sound? the load-out? stage management? the concession stands?) its hard to say why the experiment was dropped. Does anyone recall the stage configuration for 1960s Winterland shows?

Of course, by mid-1972 Bill Graham was putting on concerts at Winterland almost every weekend, and as the decade wore on it turned out that Winterland was too small, not too large. The last show was December 31, 1978, with the Grateful Dead at the farthest Western end of the hall. The building was torn down in 1985, and the site is a block of condominiums now. Every few years I drive by for some reason or another. Post and Steiner was the first address I learned in San Francisco (I lived in the suburbs) and I always have strangely mixed feelings when I see condos instead of a crumbling ice palace. The songs on the radio always sound better the nearer I get, though, and while its probably just my own nostalgia, it still fits--everybody sounds better at Winterland.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

April 15, 1970 Winterland, San Francisco Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service--guest performers

(A clip from Ralph Gleason's On The Town column in the San Francisco Chronicle, Monday, April 13, 1970)

An amazing tape survives of a fantastic Grateful Dead performance at Winterland on Wednesday, April 15, 1970. Although the tape is well known amongst Deadheads, almost nothing is known of the show. No posters, photos or contemporary reviews seem to have survived, which is surprising for a concert featuring three of San Francisco's finest bands at the biggest venue in town. In my previous post I speculated on the scant information available, and suggested that the show was put on by the bands themselves, with Bill Graham and his crew acting as some sort of contractor. The Dead had headlined at the Fillmore West the previous weekend (April 9-12), so it appears that the Dead could not be advertised until those shows were complete. Ralph Gleason's Monday (April 13) column (above) appears to be the first mention of the show. Listing upcoming events, he simply says "At Winterland Wednesday...Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service and Grateful Dead."

Separate from the peculiar circumstances of the show itself, in the middle of the 100 minute tape, a number of musicians join Jerry Garcia and others for a pretty exciting jam, even if its only six minutes or so. Since we have no information about the show, we can only speculate on who those guests might be. The jam takes place right after the drum solo, and after a quick (0:49) drum interlude the Dead blast into "The Other One." During the jam, an additional organ player, guitarist and conga player are audible, but given that there are no vocals, anyone could be onstage using the Dead's instruments to play along with Jerry, and the second drum interlude may be there to allow the band to rejoin the stage. I will limit my speculation to the guitarist, organist and conguero, but keep in mind that numerous other guests may be there as well.

I'm a listener, not a musician, but the jam mines very different territory than either a typical Dead jam or a conventional musician's noodling session. The jam isn't based on a song known to me (like "Turn On Your Lovelight," a song almost all 60s musicians knew well) nor does it use a standard blues or country progression. The musicians play fast, in a strange rhythm--these guys are all good and playing hard, so it isn't some pals goofing off on the wrong instruments. Whoever is on stage has to either be friendly with the Dead or have some musical credibility with them, and they have to be in town. My speculation as to the April 15, 1970 guests is based on who seems the most likely, as I have nothing else to go on.

Guest Guitarist
The guitarist seems to be playing some choppy, fast chords, and sounds distinctly different than Bob Weir (I can't tell if Weir is on stage or not). For any guest appearances, the first guesses always have to come from musicians who were already there, and that points towards Gary Duncan of Quicksilver. Duncan was (and is) an exceptional rhythm guitarist with a very jazzy feel (listen to "Acupulco Gold And Silver" from Quicksilver's first album, for example). Jorma Kaukonen and John Cipollina, also on the bill, do not play in this style and it would be highly unlikely if it were them.

Band friend David Crosby was a regular onstage guest during the 1969-72 period, but the guitar playing sounds too choppy and jazzy for Crosby in 1970. Some years later Crosby headed in that direction (I'm thinking of the March 17, 1975 "Ned's Birthday" studio tape), so I suppose its possible, but I don't think Crosby played that way in 1970.

There seems to be a distinctly jazz tone to the guitarist, separate from his odd chords. If I have to speculate on an unexpected guest, I would propose local guitarist Jerry Hahn, then leading a group called The Jerry Hahn Brotherhood. Hahn had played guitar with John Handy, and then replaced Larry Coryell in the Gary Burton Quartet (a formidable task). The Jerry Hahn Brotherhood was playing Mandrake's in Berkeley on Monday and Tuesday of that week (April 13 and 14) and would return to the Matrix the next week, so they were definitely in town. Hahn was a formidable player and would have been known to every guitar player in town--certainly he might have been invited on stage.

Guest Organist
Pigpen's organ would have been onstage, and Pig generally laid out for the extensive jamming. With a convenient organ, it was easy to invite a keyboard player on stage. To eliminate the obvious choices, Tom Constanten had left the band in January, and Ned Lagin had not yet met the group.

Of the three bands on the bill, only Nicky Hopkins of Quicksilver Messenger Service played keyboards (beyond the level of noodling). Hopkins was actually a pretty good organ player, based on some obscure recordings (the original "Edward" on Shady Grove, as well as its reprise on his solo album, and possibly the Rolling Stones "Let's Spend The Night Together"). However, I'm not aware of Hopkins ever playing organ on stage, so its difficult to say what he might have sounded like. I guess its possibly him, but it sounds too dissonant to my ears.

What local musician might be playing a jazzy, high energy organ along with Jerry Garcia? Howard Wales sure seems like a likely choice. He had jammed with Garcia at least once before (August 28, 1969), and very shortly Garcia would join Wales in Monday night jam sessions at the Matrix. The playing does sound like Wales, and the timeline fits nicely.

In the realm of pure speculation, if you accept my hypothesis that the guitarist was Jerry Hahn, then it might follow that Brotherhood organist Mike Finnegan was onstage also. Finnegan is a great organist who can play anything, so while he typically plays in a bluesy style, he could jam with anyone anywhere. Finnegan spent much of late 1970 leading the house band at the Lion's Share in San Anselmo, alternating duties with Bill Champlin, so he was certainly a "friend of friends" at least with the Dead. I suppose Bill Champlin is a possibility also, as he not only played organ but was a pretty far out musician as well. Champlin was working in a band called The Rhythm Dukes at the time, with ex-Moby Grape guitarist Jerry Miller, but I guess he could have found time to drop by Winterland. Nonetheless, my money's on Howard Wales.

Guest Conguero
It takes ears much sharper than mine to identify the styles of different conga players. However, even to my ears its pretty clear that this cat can really play--this isn't some lead singer bopping along by adding a little rhythmic color on the congas, its a real player laying it down. Even by 1970, relatively few congueros were part of the rock scene, so the candidates are fewer.

The first choice for rock congas in San Francisco is always the Santana band. Santana had just played the weekend at Fillmore East (April 10-12) and were going to a big show in London (Saturday April 18). I suppose its possible that some band members flew home to San Francisco, and then flew back out to London. If so, then either Mike Carabello or Chepito Areas are reasonable possibilities--they were both fantastic players and friends with the Dead. Areas usually played timbales with Santana, but he was a fine conguero as well (also a great traps player, and a pretty good trumpet player too).

For local players, the next most likely choice would be Rico Reyes. Reyes had been in the group Sanpaku who supported the Dead many times and were quite friendly with them. Reyes played and sang on some Santana albums, and ended up helping to lead a fantastic group called Azteca in the early 1970s. He also played on some Quicksilver albums around this time (Just For Love and Fresh Air). He was a fine player who would likely always have been welcome onstage.

The most intriguing suggestion (proposed on a Wolfgang's Vault thread) was percussion great Airto Moreira. Airto had just been in town with Miles Davis, opening for the Dead at Fillmore West. Airto was still sort of an adjunct member of the band, perhaps why they were advertised as the Miles Davis Quintet on the Fillmore West poster. I'm not sure of Miles Davis's subsequent touring schedule, but Airto may not have been booked for further dates even if they were on Miles's itinerary. I don't know the exact circumstances of Airto's friendship with Mickey Hart and the Dead, but perhaps it started this early.

I should add that all of these percussive speculations might be correct. I was fortunate enough to see Airto sit in with the Dead a few times in the 1980s, and he is a fantastic traps drummer, so perhaps he played traps while someone else played congas, and any number of percussionists might have been on stage.  A picture would go a long way towards explaining this, but sadly I know of no such photos.

The April 15, 1970 performance is a fantastic performance, and its hard not to speculate on why the Dead played so well. Wednesday is not a typical working night for musicians, so perhaps a lot of friends were backstage, and Jerry and the boys decided to step up. It would be nice to know who joined them, if only to know who the band might have been trying to impress.

April 15, 1970 Winterland, San Francisco Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service

(A clip from Ralph Gleason's On The Town column in the San Francisco Chronicle, Wednesday, April 15, 1970)

By 1970, rock concerts were big business, and by any definition The Grateful Dead were rock stars. It may have been true that in 1970 many more people had heard of the Dead than had actually heard their music, and many of those who had heard their music had only the most passing acquaintance with it, having heard the occasional album track on FM radio or a bit of a record at a party, but the same is true of the Dead today. Rock stardom can project fame well beyond the music. In any case, thanks to Rolling Stone magazine, the local dailies and underground newspapers, the doings of the Grateful Dead were fairly well covered. Thus it remains remarkable how many 1970 Grateful Dead concerts remain quite mysterious.

Many Deadheads are familiar with a stellar board tape of the April 15, 1970 Winterland show. Save for a few clips and fades, the 99-minute tape appears to be a largely complete show. The lengthy set includes a number of unnamed guests during a jam after the drum solo, including a guitarist, an organist and a conga player (at least). Further research into this show reveals almost nothing--there is a sensational, memorable recording that has circulated widely, but barely a peep about the show otherwise: I know of no poster, review or photo, and only the barest of eyewitness accounts remain. This post attempts to draw conclusions from what little information is available about the promotion of the concert itself.

The Concert
I know of no poster or ads for this concert. The only reference to this show that I could find was two references in Ralph Gleason's column in the San Francisco Chronicle, briefly on Monday April 13 and then slightly more on April 15, the day of the concert (above). Gleason writes
Tonight the Jefferson Airplane, the Quicksilver Messenger Service and the Grateful Dead have their own dance at Winterland--"Three Bands for Three Dollars"
Gleason's phrasing distinctly suggests that the Dead, Airplane and the Quick are promoting their own show, and certainly this show never appears on any lists of BGP shows. However, on one of the Archive comment threads, an apparent eyewitness ("Evan S Hunt") writes
It Didn't Matter that the next day was a school day. I had boycotted all my classes. Many SF Bay Area college and university students had taken part in the drill to do the same. And while we struck, Apollo 13 astronauts were lorst into space. That morning heard a one time, last minute official public announcement on KSAN-FM that Bill Graham was throwing a midweek special.

About 5000 people emerged from out of the shadows and ponied-up the $5.50 GA charge. This is that show. This entire show appeals in that it was one of those shows when the band sits 'round the fire and moves as it wishes. No pressure, no hurry, no worry. Just get up and play and have fun. In 1970, the Grateful Dead was the kind of band that Bill Graham could ask to slip a little show in here and there to help with the bottom line. Was home well before 6 a.m. It didn't matter anyway. I had no classes that day, or the next. I slept until 2:30 p.m. Thursday.

And the killer portion of this whole episode was that I had previously attended all the GD's shows at Fillmore West in the previous seven days.
Long ago memories can be a tricky thing, with people conflating concerts in their mind, but there are a number of crucial reasons to find every word of this entirely believable. First of all, he has the date of the Apollo 13 crisis exactly correct, and the Student Strike of 1970 (too lengthy a digression to enter into here) was also a quite memorable event. Combined with the fact that the Dead had just played four nights at Fillmore West, I have every reason to believe Evan Hunt's memory of this show as a last second announcement. His memory begs an important question: who promoted this show? Why was Bill Graham on the radio pushing a last minute show, without tying it to his regular productions?

Bill Graham Presents, Circa 1970
There is a lot of mythology about Bill Graham and the Fillmores, most of it promulgated by Bill Graham. In reality, however, though the Fillmore Auditorium, Fillmore East and Fillmore West were cornerstones of the rock concert industry, that same industry had exploded to the point that those venues were no longer viable. In late 1969, Graham acknowledged that the land under the Fillmore West had been sold to Howard Johnson's, and the building would soon be demolished to build a hotel. At the same time, I am convinced that Graham was professionally afraid of a well capitalized competitor (such as Concerts West or Los Angeles-based Concert Associates) coming into San Francisco and pushing him out of business. This may seem unlikely now, but it wouldn't have seemed unlikely to Graham at the time. Winterland was simply another building for rent, and a big player with sufficient capital could lease the hall and instantly threaten the Fillmore West.

The whole subject of the San Francisco concert industry in 1970 is worth several posts on my other blog, but I am making the case here that Graham was both poking around for different business models while constantly reminding any out-of-town competitors that he was a local magician who owned the territory. By Spring 1970, the Airplane were bigger than ever (behind Volunteers), and more people had learned about the magic of The Dead (thanks to Live/Dead) and Quicksilver, whose first two albums were FM classics. Why have a "stealth" show, with little advance warning, in such a big hall?

One thing to consider is that the Grateful Dead had just headlined four memorable nights at the Fillmore West (April 9-12, Thursday through Sunday) with the Miles Davis Quintet (actually a sextet, since Airto Moreira had joined as percussionist). Thus contractually, the Dead at least would not have been allowed to advertise a show until the Fillmore West run was over. The Airplane and Quicksilver were less constrained, but the Quick would have just come back from the East Coast, and the Airplane were about to head East themselves. I suspect that means that both bands may have had uncertain schedules, so the show couldn't have been promoted as an Airplane/Quicksilver show, with the Dead added at the last second.

Gleason suggests that the three bands were putting on the show themselves. All the San Francisco bands, particularly the Dead, had a complex personal and business relationship with Bill Graham and Chet Helms, where they liked them personally yet competed with them financially. I suspect the Dead and the others wanted to put on their own show because they felt they could make more money than if they played Fillmore West, but the show could not have been promoted until the Dead's Fillmore West appearances were done. This suggests the Dead as instigators of this event, since the other two probably would have simply promoted the show in advance.

Yet Evan Hunt's memory--which seems quite clear--was firm about recalling Bill Graham announcing the show on the radio. Why would Graham announce a show by a band that had just headlined his hall, with some groups who were attempting to compete with him for the concert dollar in San Francisco? Since I've given you what little information there is about the show, anyone is free to supplement, rebut or transform my suggestions, which follow.
  • The Grateful Dead and Quicksilver wanted to put on a show in San Francisco, and the Airplane came along for the ride. The show was financially motivated--the bands thought they could make more money as the promoters of their own show. Wednesday April 15 was an open date and Winterland was an available hall. The student strike may have made the date seem especially propitious.
  • Since the Dead were booked at Fillmore West on April 9-12, their own show could not be publicized until the Fillmore West run was complete.
  • Putting on a large, professional rock show wasn't a lark; it required a professional crew and equipment. The best in the West was Bill Graham's Fillmore West operation, so the bands hired Bill Graham and his staff. There was no Fillmore West show on April 15 (John Mayall opened the next night at Fillmore West), so the crew was available. Graham was at least considering different business models, so acting as a crew for hire while another promoter (in this case the bands) took the financial risk was worth trying on for size.
  • While the Dead and the others were competing with Graham, their scope as competitors was limited to their own shows, but the threat of outside promoters was considerably more ominous. Graham needed to demonstrate to any potential competitors on both Coasts that these were still his bands, and more importantly insure that three hometown heroes did not hook up with major players in New York or Los Angeles.
Thus on April 15, 1970 the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service put on a show at Winterland to compete with Bill Graham Presents, and appear to have hired Bill Graham in order to do it. All of this is speculation on my part, if informed speculation: anyone with additional insights, information, objections or new ideas should post them in the Comments.

I will speculate on the guests at the April 15 Winterland show in my next post.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

August 14-15, 1971 Berkeley Community Theater, Berkeley, CA--Ned Lagin

(An ad for upcoming shows at the Berkeley Community Theater from August and September 1971)

Back before Deadbase and the Internet, one of the few ways to learn about Grateful Dead historical events was chatting up strangers between sets at shows. While I heard many tall tales, I also heard many things that turned out to be true, and at times it gave me a clue to know what I was looking for when more sophisticated research became possible. I particularly recall chatting with someone in the lobby of Marin Veterans Memorial Auditorium in San Rafael in 1983 or '84. He told me about seeing the Grateful Dead at Berkeley Community Theater in August 1971, and seeing a piano player sit in for most of the show. He concluded by saying "the next year, I realized it was Keith Godchaux." He was very clear eyed and convincing eyewitness, not one of those people who told stories like "my brother said he saw Jerry jamming with Frank Zappa and Pink Floyd at a bar on 46th Street!"

I pursued this for a few years, but I largely reached a Dead end. As the whole story of the Godchauxs became clearer by the mid-80s, it became plain that the mystery piano player wasn't Keith. A knowledgeable person suggested that it very well might have been Vince Guaraldi, a San Francisco jazz pianist whose wife worked in the Grateful Dead office in the early 1970s, and I cherished this theory for a while. Then I was left stumped when I finally heard some tapes, and I couldn't hear any piano. Was my informant deluded? I had talked to plenty of goofy stoners, and he didn't seem to be one of them.

Ultimately, a David Gans interview broadcast on KPFA (on February 3, 2001) solved the mystery. It had been long-time Dead associate Ned Lagin on electric piano at Berkeley. Gans's interview revealed that not only had Lagin sat in with the Dead numerous times in the early 1970s, he was never plugged into the PA, so while his piano was audible to the musicians and the audience, it was not present on any soundboard tapes. I do not know enough about gear and recording to say whether this was a typical configuration or a specific choice by Lagin, but it means that a number of Grateful Dead performances need to be viewed in a different light. This post will attempt to document which shows might need reconsideration, although more focused ears than mine will need to provide the analysis (you know who you are).

Ned Lagin
Ned Lagin was a trained jazz musician raised in New York City. While going to college at MIT, training to be a biologist, he attended a Grateful Dead concert (probably at either The Ark or Boston Tea Party, which were actually the same place) and was duly impressed. He wrote a letter to Jerry Garcia, as had so many others. Unlike the rest of us, however, when the Dead came to MIT in May, 1970 the Dead were looking for him and so Jerry, Phil, Pigpen and Mickey spent an afternoon hanging out in Lagin's dorm room prior to the concert (the dream of all college-age Deadheads from 1967 to 1995, but I digress).

As a result of his MIT meeting, Lagin was invited out to San Francisco, and that Summer he played on American Beauty. Ned Lagin is best known today for his Seastones project with Phil Lesh, a unique electronic music experiment. There were two local concerts that I am aware of (Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco November 28, 1973 and Dominican College, San Rafael June 6, 1975), both of which featured Jerry Garcia and others as special guests. From June 1974 onwards, Lesh and Lagin would appear between sets at Grateful Dead concerts, playing their unique brand of music on the "Wall Of Sound," sometimes joined by other members of the Dead. On occasion, Lagin would remain on stage playing electric piano as the band morphed from electronic music to regular Dead material. To my knowledge, Lagin's playing was not recorded on the circulating board tapes (although I will defer to experts as to whether that was always true).

Gans's 2001 interview was wrapped around a broadcast of a studio recording from Ned Lagin's birthday party on March 17, 1975, featuring Lagin, Garcia, David Crosby, Lesh and Bill Kreutzmann, jamming on the chord changes to some David Crosby tunes. This tape had circulated in various forms, but this was far and away the best version. Lagin had been making his living via means other than music (he was an MIT trained biologist, after all), and he had been largely invisible musically since 1975. Gans's interview, however, revealed that Lagin had played at considerably more Grateful Dead concerts than had been realized, and I will attempt to document those appearances here.

Sargent Gym, Boston U, Boston, MA November 21, 1970
Lagin (via Gans):
The first time I performed with the Grateful Dead, was at Boston University in 1970. That is true, I can’t be heard and that is because while I was heard onstage and in the immediate present, I was not plugged into the P.A.

That was a concert that was in a gymnasium at Boston University, and there had been counterfeit tickets sold. So before the concert started, as they just started letting people in, it was realized that there were more people than there was room in the hall, and a short riot ensued, where the band was trapped onstage and people were basically running amok. And, in fact, the Boston Tactical Squad – the riot squad – was called out to straighten things out.
Presumably Lagin was playing a Fender Rhodes electric piano, itself probably a first for the Dead. Since there is only a brief (21 minute) soundboard and no audience tape, Lagin's performance at this show remains a mystery.

Boston Music Hall, Boston, MA April 7-8, 1971
There were several other times where the same thing is true – that I can be minimally heard or not heard ‘cause I wasn’t plugged into the P.A. The times that the band returned to Boston in ’71, I played or sat in at the Music Hall.
Spectacular Betty boards exist of these shows. Was Ned Lagin on stage playing Fender Rhodes electric piano for some of it? April 8, 1971 has a particularly spacy second set beginning with Dark Star. Was the band responding to an added yet unheard to us musical voice?

The Dead returned to the Boston Music Hall on December 1 and 2, 1971, and its possible that Ned Lagin made an appearance. In the Gans interview, however, he says "this was in the period of time when T.C. had left the band and it was before Keith had joined the band," so it seems less likely. Nonetheless, the second set of December 1, 1971 begins with "spacey jam"--a Lagin marker, perhaps?

Berkeley Community Theater, August 14-15, 1971
When I came out in ’70, ’71, and ’72 – ’71 in particular at the Berkeley Community Theater – I’m also playing.
Gans and Lagin have resolved my Berkeley Community Theater mystery, and my original interviewer did not have a brain fade, even if the piano player did not turn out to be Keith Godchaux.  However, this does put the tapes in a different light. Based on my eyewitness and general comments from Lagin, Ned's contributions were focused on numbers with a heavy improvisational component, like "The Other One" or "Dark Star". Some of the most interesting jamming on these two nights may in fact be only a partial document of what was heard in the crowd, but without an audience tape its impossible to say.

Lagin's remark about coming to the Bay Area and playing in 70, 71 and 72 suggests that he made intermittent appearances at various concerts at Fillmore West and Winterland as well, presumably even with Keith on stage.

Ned Lagin Playing Organ with The Grateful Dead: Speculative Dates
I had an interesting and close relationship with Pigpen, which has never really much been talked about. Pigpen has this aura of the blues musician and the Hell’s Angel relationships. But he was a very, very interesting and interested person. And as I said, when we were hanging out at MIT Pigpen was there hanging out. He thought I was like the Mr. Wizard science kid. But he read a lot and knew a lot, and we hung out together. And he – like at Berkeley Community Theater and at Portchester and other places – if I was standing next to him on the organ and they were gonna go into “The Other One,” or “The Eleven,” or some of the other larger, longer jams, he would have me sit down at the organ or he’d push me into the organ. A lot of times I was in the shadows. 
This quote offers some tantalizing evidence, and further mysteries. It appears that Lagin may not have been very visible at all from the audience, even when playing piano. More interestingly, it seems that Pigpen would invite Lagin to play organ on some of the more improvisational numbers. This means that Lagin may be quite audible, as Pigpen's organ was not separated from whatever feed went to the soundboard.

I have a laser-like focus for buildings, addresses and calendars, which is why my blogs focus on them. I find great music so powerful, however, that whenever I listen I am transported. As a result, I am America's worst comparer of tapes, since I get carried away and can never remember what I was listening for. Thus, I can only wonder if anyone else has noticed some exceptional organ playing on some of the big jams at the following shows, which might indicate an audible Ned Lagin performance.
  • November 21, 1970 Sargent Gym, Boston U, Boston, MA
  • February 18-24, 1971 Capitol Theater, Port Chester, NY
  • March 3, 1971 Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA
  • March 24, 1971 Winterland, San Francisco, CA
  • April 7-8, 1971 Boston Music Hall, Boston, MA
  • May 29-30, 1971 Winterland, San Francisco, CA
  • August 14-15, 1971 Berkeley Community Theater, Berkeley, CA
  • December 1-2, 1971 Boston Music Hall, Boston, MA
  • December 31, 1971 Winterland, San Francisco, CA
  • March 5, 1972 Winterland, San Francisco, CA
Unlike the other dates, where we have to wait in vain for audience tapes to surface, many of the shows listed above do have circulating board tapes, and a good listener might find persuasive evidence that Ned Lagin was playing organ instead of Pigpen at certain times.