Wednesday, June 16, 2010

March 1970 New Riders Shows--Did They Happen?

In a prior post, I was very pleased to find the earliest known 1970 show by the New Riders of The Purple Sage, on March 12, at the tiny Inn Of The Beginning in Cotati. Since that was the day before  a pair of weekend shows at Berkeley's New Orleans House (March 13 and 14, 1970), I drew an elaborate conclusion that the New Riders were testing Dave Torbert as a bassist. I posited that he presumably passed, and that would have set the stage for the New Riders surfacing in late April.

That was yesterday. I am now rethinking the whole concept. Maybe the shows never took place at all, so my logical deductions about the New Riders bass player had a foundation in empty air. First, the new evidence, via Ross:

The weekly Berkeley Barb display ad for the New Orleans House (for the week of March 6-12, 1970) shows the New Riders as appearing on Friday and Saturday, as has been advertised for some time.

However, Ross also sent a clip from the Barb entertainment listings of the same week, and it shows Big Brother as appearing at the New Orleans House. Now, the display ads were often prepared some time in advance, not surprisingly, but the Scenedrome entertainment listings were much more current, often updated by phone. Its hard not to draw the conclusion that Big Brother seems to have replaced the New Riders at the Boarding House.

Whatever the story--and I'll speculate on that in a minute--Big Brother and The Grateful Dead had been good friends for many years, and David Nelson and Peter Albin were even better friends, so the substitution seems likely. During this period, Big Brother was getting back into performing without Janis Joplin, so headlining a small venue (or a large club, depending on your point of view) like The New Orleans House made business sense. Ross reminded me of another New Riders booking:
The next week's Barb (March 13-19, 1970) advertised a benefit at San Francisco's Family Dog On The Great Highway, featuring the New Riders of The Purple Sage and Hot Tuna. I had long dismissed this as a valid New Riders date, since the Grateful Dead were in Buffalo the night before (March 17), and it seemed unlikely that Garcia and Hart would fly back for a benefit. I have always presumed that Hot Tuna played the show, but that the New Riders did not.

However, the new evidence from Ross and the Comment thread on the March 12, 1970 post has led me to re-think my entire view of the evolution of the New Riders in Spring 1970. In contravention of everything I wrote yesterday, I am going to suggest that
  • The New Riders never played March 12 in Cotati, March 13-14 in Berkeley or March 18 in San Francisco
  • Dave Torbert was not a member of the New Riders until April of 1970, begging the question of who the March 1970 was supposed to be
I tend to be narrowly focused on live performance dates, but one of the themes of the Comment thread was the amount of stressful activity going on in the Grateful Dead universe in February and March 1970. To note some important highlights, for which my primary source is Dennis McNally (p. 360-363)
  • Tom Constanten was fired after the January 23 show in Hawaii, not to be replaced.
  • The Dead were busted down on Bourbon Street on January 31, 1970. While it was the usual setup, pot busts were never a casual matter back then.
  • At the same time the Dead were getting busted on tour, Dead manager Lenny Hart was trying to move the Dead offices from Novato to the Family Dog in San Francisco, where he would become the manager of the concert venue as well as the Dead.
  • In early February, however, Lenny Hart refused to show Family Dog impresario Chet Helms his account books, and Chet refused to go through with the merger. Helms kept back-of-the-envelope type accounts himself, so he might not have been bothered by a bit of sloppiness, but he had to have pretty serious suspicions to cancel on what could have been a venue-saving merger. Lenny Hart scuttled back to Novato before the Dead returned from tour after February 23.
  • Jerry Garcia and Mountain Girl were on the verge of losing their house and were desperate for cash to buy the house they lived in (it was for sale). Garcia was owed a check from MGM for working on the Zabriskie Point soundtrack, and Lenny appeared to have absconded with it. Garcia and MG had to move, and this precipitated a crisis. Ramrod ultimately told the band "it's him or me," and Garcia told Lenny "we know we can't do without him."
  • When Lenny was pushed aside, investigation showed that he had stolen at least $155,000 from the band, effectively bankrupting them.
  • The Dead installed a new management troika, with John McIntire handling the record company, Sam Cutler handling the road and Rock Scully handling promotion.
  • Between January 30 (New Orleans) and March 8 (Phoenix), the Grateful Dead played 22 nights in concert, in an insane schedule (New Orleans>St. Louis>SF>NYC>Texas>SF>Santa Monica>Phoenix). 
  • With non-stop madness swirling around the Grateful Dead throughout February and March, somehow the band found the light to rehearse and record Workingman's Dead at Wally Heider Studios in San Francisco. Deeply in debt, the band focused on rehearsing and recording a simple album of songs that could be made cheaply. They succeeded and found a huge new audience as well.
I believe the New Riders of The Purple Sage shows scheduled for March were booked in February, but they were never actually played. The Inn Of The Beginning did not have "headline" acts on weeknights, so the New Riders did not have to be "replaced." The New Orleans House would have needed a headliner, but Big Brother must have done the Dead a favor, and in any case they were re-establishing themselves. I wouldn't be surprised if Big Brother replaced the Riders at the Family Dog on March 18 as well.

My old reason for rejecting the New Riders date on March 18 was thinking that since the Dead were in Buffalo the night before, it seemed unlikely that Garcia and Hart would fly back for a benefit. Ironically, I actually think Garcia may have flown back anyway, in order to mix Workingman's Dead. However, McNally dates the Dead's discovery of Lenny Hart's perfidy to early March, and I think a big barrier to any New Riders shows was asking Mickey Hart to play. Mickey couldn't not play Dead dates, as the band needed the money too desperately, but the New Riders shows were a different proposition. A few New Riders dates had been booked, but the turmoil surrounding the Dead meant that the shows were never played.

The Dave Torbert Question
Despite my clever line of reasoning in my prior post about the March shows, I had wondered how the Riders had found time to rehearse Dave Torbert enough to get through three nights as a headliner. Looking at Garcia and the Dead's activity level and problems for February and March, I don't think it would have been possible. I think Phil Lesh was still on board as the New Riders bass player, as the band would have had no time to rehearse. The only alternative was that Robert Hunter was going to make his live debut as the Riders bassist, and since these shows were never played, it never occurred.

Whatever Garcia, Nelson and Marmaduke's plans for the New Riders in March 1970--an interesting if only hypothetical question--they were thrown over by chaos in the Dead organization. Thus Dave Torbert's hiring probably did not take place until April of 1970. That would suggest that the first Torbert show as April 17, 1970 at The Family Dog on The Great Highway, presumably after some intensive rehearsal.


  1. Firstly an apology for kicking off the conjecture today.

    I checked the Berkeley Tribe - which I consider a better source than the Barb after mid 1969, and it lists Big Brother with support from Canyon as well.


  2. Hey, the new information was great. Even though I just took back everything I said in yesterday's post, we are way more knowledgeable today (about this subject of transcendent world importance).

    Interesting that there was confirmation from The Tribe, as that seems to leave no doubt that the Riders didn't play NOH. Plus we found two more Big Brother shows.

  3. This is what this medium is all about. Thinking out loud, getting some feedback that leads to new/revised information and thinking, etc. etc. Kudos to all involved!

  4. Here's some confirmation for a piece of what you say regarding Phil just not being that into it. It's Dawson in Sandy Troy's One More Saturday Night (1991), p. 170: "Phil at some point said 'Hey, I don't want to do it anymore.' So that's when David Torbert joined the band."

  5. Most musicians are in a variety of bands while they learn their instrument, so they are fully formed when they finally join the band that's a keeper. The Dead, and particularly Phil, did it all backwards. Phil started out in his keeper band, and had to go backwards to get all the experience.

    Playing bass in a country rock band for six months is the kind of things professional bassists do; Phil just did it 3 years after he joined the Dead. I think the New Riders music gave Phil a perspective on how to play economical but sophisticated bass parts in a countrified setting. He used it to very good effect on the acoustic Dead, Workingman's Dead and American Beauty.

    However, I think Phil wasn't going to learn more by playing longer in the New Riders, so he simply stepped aside. The acoustic Dead may have been a factor, too--if the Dead proper were going to play that sort of music themselves, I think Phil only wanted to be the bassist for one set rather than two (ie acoustic Dead plus NRPS).

  6. Ah, I was just about to quote that Dawson interview myself! It's a bit short on details, though, but it also hints that Hunter was the FIRST choice of bass player back in summer '69 - when he didn't work out, then they tried Matthews, and when he flopped too, then Phil stepped in.
    Of course, that could be Dawson's faulty memory, but that's a lot different from Hunter trying to step in during winter '70. (And, perhaps also indirect evidence that our FOTD demo could actually be from summer '69 rather than later? Perhaps even Hunter on bass?)

  7. Hunter did say he put the bass on apparently, the only question is when.

    Dawson, rest his soul, never seemed to be that precise about dates. My own feeling is that Matthews and Hunter got passed over for Phil--who wouldn't?--and Hunter thought he might have had another shot at it, only to be bypassed for Torbert.

  8. LIA, I read it a little bit differently. Here's the relevant part of the Dawson interview in the Troy book (Troy 1991, p. 167):

    “Hunter was trying to be the bass player for awhile but he didn’t have that many chops together. Bob Matthews tried out but he wasn’t able to pick up on the instrument quickly enough because all of the rest of us had been playing for a long time. That’s when Phil Lesh finally stepped in and played bass with the New Riders.”

    Sounds, as Corry says, like Hunter and Matthews wanted it but couldn't hack it. Doesn't sound like Dawson wanted them, per se. And Phil seemed like the default option.

  9. I think your interpretation sounds better, actually. It may be that Hunter got first shot at being bass player just because he was living with Garcia at the time & always hanging around!
    I was thinking of Hunter's comment, "The NRPS had asked me if I wanted to play bass with them and it seemed like a good idea at the time"... It does seem that after a bit of rehearsal though, the others quickly changed their minds (without telling him)!

  10. By the way, Matthews claims that he played bass for first three or four months with NRPS in his 7/13/2005 Dead to the World interview by David Gans.

  11. Amazing. What are we to make of this?

    While I don't believe that Matthews played bass "for the first three or four months" with NRPS perhaps he did play some gigs, perhaps more than a few. But thinking about it points up two things:

    over the last 40 years or so, everyone has repeated the same canned story about the New Riders (they got together, Phil and Mickey joined, the Dead figured out they could add a band with just two new people, they went on tour with the Dead in Fall 1969). Its been repeated so many times that even people who were there (Nelson, Dawson, Hunter) repeat it. But there's a big question as to the timeline involved, so maybe other parts of it have been forgotten as well. And

    Have you ever seen a picture of the New Riders, on or offstage, prior to Michael Parrish's 4/28/70 photo? Have you ever read a review of any sort that mentions anybody other than Jerry, Marmaduke or Mickey Hart? We actually know very little.

    Almost all of the non-cliche research in this area has been done by you and me, and I'm hard pressed to prove that Phil played. Hey--how could I disprove that Matthews played all those gigs at the Inn Of the Beginning?

  12. Those are all really good points.

    I'd only amplify it beyond the New Riders. People commonly act as if the whole GD-and-related phenomenon is only populated by "settled facts" ... discussions of potential books to write on topics under this rubric very commonly elicit a "hasn't everything that needs to be said already been said?" (by McNally and Jackson, presumably). My answer is that while McNally and Jackson are both excellent pieces of work, we haven't even scratched the surface yet, not in terms of the empirical record and certainly not in terms of making sense of it all.

    This NRPS thing is just the latest example of this. As you say, everything thinks we know the story, but upon closer inspection the canonical version sort of falls apart. For example, given that the NRPS appear not to have gone on the road with the GD before spring of 1970, it was *never* only two added people, it was always at least three (Dawson, Nelson, Torbert). No big deal, but it joins with lots of other little inconsistencies to change the big picture story at least a little bit.

  13. Just to muddy the waters after all this time.

    You’ve proven your case for 70-3-13/14 so 70-3-12 seems logical too. However I’m confident NRPS did play the Family Dog benefit on 70-3-18, not that I have anything to contribute on who played bass.

    “The Deadhead’s Taping Compendium Vol 1” p 4 has a nice photo of two shelves of the Vault tapes for early 1970. On the right hand end of the top shelf are five tapes labelled 3/18/70. There may be more with this date further to the right out of the picture.

    Tape #1 is labelled Banjo player, Rolling Thunder; tape #2 Hot Tuna, N.R., then the label curls up hiding what is written but below the label is “& NRPS”; tape #3 N.R.; tape #4 Hot Tuna, Rolling Thunder, Hot Tuna and tape #5 Hot Tuna, N.R.

    Assuming that N.R. are NRPS (what else could N.R. be?) and that this is indeed the Family Dog (there is no location on the labels) that gives a running order of Banjo player, Rolling Thunder, Hot Tuna, NRPS, Hot Tuna, Rolling Thunder, Hot Tuna, NRPS. Ignoring the warm-up banjo player (an amateur connected to the beneficiaries perhaps?) that looks like an Early and Late show of Rolling Thunder, Hot Tuna, NRPS, Hot Tuna with the final reel(s) out of picture. I don’t think I’ve seen that Early and Late show format at the Family Dog before.

    The tape immediately to the left of these caught my eye too. It is labelled “something unreadable but probably 3”.10.70 Phoenix #2 and to the left of that is 3.8.70 Phoenix # 1. I’m not suggesting that 3.10.70 Phoenix is correct but it is interesting none the less. It is either a second Phoenix GD show we don’t know about or a mislabelled Vault master tape.

    I do like reading the labels on photos of the Vault!

  14. Runonguinness, you are a man after my own heart and a true scholar. It's pretty hard to deny that if there is a photograph of the NRPS Mar 18 '70 tape in the vault, they played the gig. So what do we end up with? Here's my proposition:

    >As posited above, the Riders do not play at IOTB on Mar 12 nor New Orleans House on Mar 13-14

    >The Dead fly to Buffalo and play with the Philharmonic on March 17

    >Most or all of the band fly home the next day. They were still in the process of finishing Workingman's Dead, according to my current understanding of the timeline. By March, they were probably just mixing and correcting mistakes with "punch-ins", but it was no less important for that.

    >The Riders date was booked at FDGH because it was known that the Dead would be back in town for Workingman's. Hart was connected to 'Rolling Thunder,' somehow, so this was a personal thing for him probably. Garcia would play any gig, because he liked to play.

    >Despite Phil's reticence towards NRPS gigs, if it was a big deal to other band members he would probably play. So my guess is that Mar 18 '70 was Lesh's last appearance with the New Riders

    >Tape-wise, we seem to have two New Riders sets and two Hot Tuna sets, both unheard. Plus the mysterious "banjo player." My own guess, personally, would be for Peter Grant. In any case, can't we have a release?

    Runonguinness, you are a gentleman and a scholar. Thanks for weighing in.

  15. A couple thoughts -

    I'm not a Hart expert, but what group in early 1970 would have been called "Rolling Thunder"? None that I've heard of.
    However, the band DID have an Indian friend, a Cherokee medicine man from Nevada called Rolling Thunder (aka John Pope) who stayed on Hart's ranch and acted as a kind of shaman for the band. (see McNally p.309)
    And I have to say, his presence at this benefit is pretty well assured - note that the benefit is for the Sons of Thunder commune in Elko, Nevada. I've learned from other sources that Rolling Thunder had lived there, and may well have been a founder of this commune; so he was most likely the one who set up this benefit.
    Hot Tunabase also offers a setlist for this show & names the medicine man as a supporting act:
    Not only that, but I've seen a Hot Tuna tape with this date in circulation - a 90-minute AUD with Marty Balin. (Which is probably where the setlist comes from.) Whether the tape is accurately dated, I can't say.

    Anyway - this guy was obviously inspirational for Hart; but we can't assume Hart was drumming (or whatever) during his segment. On the other hand, maybe he did...

    What fascinates me, given all the alternations of acts, is that this Family Dog benefit fills five reels, in no particular order. The ad says the benefit will be 4 hours, and I wonder if instead of "early & late" sets, the various musicians just kind of traded off randomly.

    It's somewhat baffling to me that Garcia & Hart would have flown home for this one benefit - very little album work could have taken place. (On a flight from the east, they could only arrive back in SF on the afternoon of 3/18; if they caught a morning flight on 3/20, that leaves one free day for the studio - assuming it was free.)
    It does fit a frequent pattern for Garcia, though - and given Rolling Thunder's participation, maybe Hart did have a personal reason to be there. In short, I think they were there for the benefit, not as an 'add-on' to planned album work.

    This may be a longshot, but JGMF once posted on a 1970 article called "On Tour with the Dead" where a reviewer talked to the band on 3/21/70 - just maybe there's a reference in the article to what the Dead were doing in the days before that show.

    And another thing to ponder - someone thought it worthwhile to tape this benefit; the whole thing, banjo player & all. That's curious in itself. (Bear, perhaps? Looking ahead to May, though, someone took the trouble to tape the Jerry Hahn Brotherhood, Shorty, and the Fourth Way at the Family Dog while the Dead were in the UK...)

    (By the way, my guess is the "3/10/70" Phoenix show is a mislabel for the 2nd reel of 3/8.)

  16. I reckon it's pretty certain that Bear was doing the SF taping whilst the Dead were away on tour as he wasn't allowed out of California at the time. There's Youngbloods at Berkeley 1970-02-20 there too and a mysterious Scotch reel.

    It would be great if there was a collection of Vault photos all in one place.

  17. LIA, thanks for the interesting insights. I'm sure Hart was involved in the event since it seems it was intimately connected to Rolling Thunder (John Pope).

    As to the quick return to San Francisco, its important to remember that the Dead were finishing an album, and trying to stay on budget. If a final mix needed approval, or a tiny vocal mistake had to be corrected, it had to be done in person. The plane flights home may have been cheaper than waiting. A day in the studio would have been enough to check off on a final mix.

    Another thing I know about the FDGH was that it had two stages on opposite sides of the floor. Thus it was easy to have numerous bands, since one band could be setting up while the other was playing. The Riders and HT were probably on opposite sides, so it was easy to alternate sets.

    I'm with runon, the freelance taping must have been Owsley. By mid-70 he couldn't travel, thanks to the NOLA bust (although had Owsley returned to SF by Feb 20? The Dead were in Texas. Maybe Owsley had to leave the tour after the bust). LIA, how do you know that there are May 70 tapes of Jerry Hahn Brotherhood and Fourth Way? Do they circulate? I love both those groups, and they both had a great live reputation.

    Jerry Hahn Brotherhood was Hahn (guitar), Mike Finnegan (organ, vocals), Clyde Graves (bass) and George Marsh (drums). Fourth Way was Michael White (electric violin), Mike Nock (electric piano), Ron McClure (bass) and Eddie Marshall (drums). The albums of both groups are long out of print, and not on cd.

  18. Jerry Hahn Brotherhood and Shorty (who's that?) tapes #1, 2, 3 & 6 from Family Dog 1970-5-23 and Fourth Way and Shorty from Family Dog 1970-5-29 (or possibly 24)tape # 1 are on the lower shelf in the same photo.

    Isn't there some controversy about whether Bear was detained in New Orleans while the Dead travelled to St Louis or am I imagining that? Anyway surely he was home almost three weeks later.

    Good point about the two stages. That would certainly make it easy to alternate sets but conversely it would complicate the taping.

  19. runon, thanks for explaining the source. I just looked it up: Shorty featured the great Georgie Fame. A pretty awesome triple bill, musically speaking. Probably about 22 people attended.

    The implication seems to be that Owsley, stuck at home with the Dead on tour, went out and taped stuff at the FDGH. So that must help explain his huge, secret stash of tapes that his heirs are trying to get out into the world. I hope they succeed.

  20. Though we don't know the extent of Bear's archive, my understanding is that he taped not just any show, but specifically the shows he was soundman for. So perhaps he had an arrangement with some bands. (The 2/20/70 Youngbloods show was at the Berkeley Community Theater.)
    In any case, it's hard to tell the extent of what was originally taped in early '70 since so many tapes went missing later - both Dead and, I would guess, shows Bear taped at home.

    What surprises me is that he was at the Fillmore East shows on Feb 11-14. Apparently the ruling that he couldn't leave California took place the week after that.

  21. I am very confident that the second "Shorty featuring Georgie Fame" date will be May 24 rather than May 29 when Ali Akbar Khan, Indranil Bhattacharya and Zakir Hussain performed.

  22. The Owsley Stanley Foundation claims to process over 1250 reels. They've transferred 150 so far. Searching/requested a list but no reply.