Saturday, June 26, 2010

September 11, 1969 Family Dog On The Great Highway: Grateful Dead

An audience tape with a single song, "Easy Wind," ostensibly from an unknown venue on September 11, 1969 has circulated for many years. The Family Dog on The Great Highway has usually been suggested as the most likely venue. Over the years I have relentlessly insisted that this must have been a spurious date, but in recent months, my opinion has reversed 180 degrees. While I cannot prove anything, I am now confident that I can assert plausible justifications not only for the performance date but for the peculiar persistence of such a brief audience tape. Although I have alluded to my views in various places, I thought it would make sense to collect them here.

In the past, I had objected to the September 11, 1969 date for the following reasons:
  • I could find no evidence of an advertisement or publicity for a September 11, 1969 Family Dog show, and I have done considerable research in that area
  • September 11 was a Thursday, and the Family Dog almost never had Thursday shows, making it seem more unlikely that they would do so without publicity
  • The audience tape sounded surprisingly well-recorded for a 1969 tape
  • Any hard-core Head who recorded a 1969 tape would be highly unlikely to leave the balance of the tape uncirculated
  • An unknown guest slide guitarist plays along, and he seems to know the song, legislating against a performance of a song that had probably been written only a few weeks earlier
Over the years, I kept expecting some sharp-eared tape expert to find this version of "Easy Wind" as part of some other, longer tape, allowing us to put aside the September 11 Family Dog date, but it never happened. In the last few months, I have come around to thinking the date and the tape are valid. Let me enumerate the various reasons here.

I could find no evidence of an advertisement or publicity for a September 11, 1969 Family Dog show, and I have done considerable research in that area
Some detailed research by Ross revealed that for a brief period in Late Summer 1969 (at least), the Family Dog had afternoon jams for working musicians. The August 28, 1969 tape with Howard Wales and some members of the Grateful Dead, labeled as "Hartbeats," falls into this category. Afternoon jams obviate the question of who was working: it didn't matter if anyone had a show Thursday night, as the jamming was taking place in the afternoon. Of course there was no advertising--it wasn't a "show," in that sense of the word.

September 11 was a Thursday, and the Family Dog almost never had Thursday shows, making it seem more unlikely that they would do so without publicity
There would have been no audience for these afternoon jams, save for a few lucky hippies who wandered by (and there wouldn't have been that much foot traffic out there, either). These afternoon jams would explain not only August 28 and September 11, but the peculiar September 7, 1969 tape with members of the Airplane and the Dead playing rock and roll oldies.

The audience tape sounded surprisingly well-recorded for a 1969 tape
Any hard-core Head who recorded a 1969 tape would be highly unlikely to leave the balance of the tape uncirculated

What put me over the top on the Sep 11 tape was an interesting observation on the blog Grateful Dead Guide about Garcia and the Dead's penchant to experiment with audience tapes even when they had a soundboard
Those who might scoff at the idea that the Dead, with all their piles of tapes, would set up audience mikes at the same time they were taping the SBDs, should recall that even years later in summer '73, Garcia was still having Kidd Candelario make "AUD" recordings of some shows alongside the SBD reels! These are a couple examples that have surfaced:
From the notes: "Reels dubbed in 1979 by Will Boswell from Jerry Garcia's personal collection. Original recording made by the sound crew at the soundboard."
My new theory about the September 11, 1969 audience tape was that it was made by some member of the Grateful Dead sound crew, most likely Owsley himself. Naturally it sounds better than typical audience tapes of the era: it was recorded by a professional on a real microphone and a good reel-to-reel deck,  not some handheld cassette job from the pre-D5 era.

While the purposes of the audience recording may have been multi-faceted, if Dead staff recorded the show, it explains why the balance of the tape never circulated. The recording was made for the Dead's purposes, not as a souvenir of a concert for future listening. The recording may not have been of the entire performance, and even if it was, recording tape was expensive (and the Dead were always broke) so only part of it may have been preserved. This would explain why a single song from a nice sounding tape was preserved in isolation from any other recording.

Given that this was a jam session, while of course I would be fascinated to hear the whole thing, regardless of the presence of many or all of the Dead members, the balance of the tape may not have been of much interest to the Dead themselves.

An unknown guest slide guitarist plays along, and he seems to know the song, legislating against a performance of a song that had probably been written only a few weeks earlier
 I have theorized in the past that the most plausible guess for the slide guitarist on September 11 was Robbie Stokes. Stokes was the guitarist for Devil's Kitchen, the "house band" at the Family Dog at the time. Stokes was a good slide player, and he would later move to Marin when the rest of Devil's Kitchen returned to Carbondale, IL. Stokes played on Mickey Hart's Rolling Thunder album and Robert Hunter's Tales Of The Great Rum Runners, and was part of the Novato "crowd" until he too returned to Carbondale in 1985, so he was definitely welcome on the scene.

In 1969, slide guitar was a known technique, but largely confined to acoustic or pedal steel guitars. Electric guitarists (like Garcia) occasionally fooled with it, but very few players used a slide regularly on electric guitar. Duane Allman was the one who gave the technique credibility, but although the Allman Brothers had formed by mid-1969, very few outside of the Southeast had heard him play. Allman himself had actually learned the technique in Los Angeles the year before (in the South, in a manner of speaking) from Ry Cooder (listen to Ry in 1968 on Taj Mahal's "Statesboro Blues"). Thus the universe of slide players comfortable enough to jam with the Grateful Dead was considerably smaller in 1969 than it would be a year or two later, and Stokes is a very likely choice.

The other fact to consider is that if my supposition was correct, September 11, 1969 was an afternoon jam, and they could have played "Easy Wind" more than once, so Stokes would not have been flying blind. In fact, my theory of the September 11, 1969 tape is that the sole purpose of the recording was to preserve "Easy Wind." The Dead had just started performing the song, and there had been 5 (known) performances starting August 21, 1969 in Seattle. Why exactly they needed a tape of "Easy Wind" can't be certain, but I do know that in order to publish and establish copyright to a song a recording of the song had to be submitted, so perhaps the band taped a performance in order to submit a publisher's demo. Its true that the band had other recordings, but there may have been mundane practical reasons that a competent audience tape would have been easier to record and duplicate than some tapes buried in the vaults.

My current working hypothesis is that the September 11, 1969 audience tape of "Easy Wind" was recorded by Owsley or another crew member at an afternoon jam at The Family Dog on The Great Highway. Although it was an "audience" tape, there was hardly an audience, and the recording was made with better equipment than was available to civilians at the time. The main purpose of the recording was to preserve a copy of "Easy Wind," for a publisher's demo or some other practical reason. A slide guitarist sat in (whether Weir is on the tape isn't clear to me), but he probably had a chance to hear a run through or possibly try out the song before the recording. There is no "missing" part of the tape, since the recording was only made to preserve that song.


  1. An interesting theory!
    Since we know nothing about this tape, we can only speculate.... I have some counter-speculations:

    1. It's listed as "unknown venue, possibly the Family Dog" - perhaps the Family Dog is a red herring, and it's not actually from a show at all?
    Unfortunately the tape is cut - we're missing the intro and the ending - so there's no sign of an audience, and no way to tell if there was one.

    2. It is Garcia, Weir, and a slide guitarist playing - the slide player does know the song (although he doesn't really step up in the jam, apparently just backing the others), so this wasn't just a casual sit-in, it must have taken a bit of rehearsal. (Especially since the Dead themselves don't sound too comfortable with the song yet!)

    3. I'd always assumed this was from some lost show, but your post makes me think that perhaps this is a fragment from a rehearsal tape - a rehearsal specifically intended to see how a third guitarist would sound in Easy Wind?

    4. I disagree that the recording sounds more professional than usual for '69. It's still crappy. It doesn't sound much better than the 9/29/69 Cafe au Go Go AUD recording, for instance, or even the more cavernous 9/27/69 Fillmore East or 10/24/69 Winterland AUDs - and the 9/30/69 AUD sounds superior, to me. So I certainly don't think this was made with 'better equipment' than the public had.

    So I'm skeptical of the idea that this was intended as a publisher's demo - but I'm thinking this may well have been a band rehearsal they taped for themselves (like the jams we hear on that Friend of the Devil tape, at around the same time).

    A lot of questions could be answered if we knew who put this into circulation, and what else accompanied it (there are other tape fragments from 1970 that also remain mysterious) - but, all these years later, we're left with guesses!

  2. Your comments are very interesting, as always. I think we can safely draw the conclusion that my ears aren't great judges of tape quality.

    I will say that I had originally been of the view that claiming 9/11/69 for the Family Dog seemed artificial, but now I am of the belief that if the date is correct, then the Family Dog is far and away the most likely venue. The presence of a guest guitarist actually increases that possibility--there was much more likely to be a guest at the Family Dog than at a rehearsal, although I agree anything is possible.

    Its still mysterious who made the tape and why. If it was at a rehearsal or "public jam" like at the FDGH, than at least it seems likely that it was an insider, even if the equipment was nothing special. I guess we could try out my theory and email Robbie Stokes--he's still out there.

    In any case, thanks for the detailed comparisons--it adds a lot to the post.

  3. By the way, what are the mysterious fragments of tape from 1970?

  4. Ah, the mysterious tape fragments from 1970.... These come to mind:

    2/5/70 - a half-hour AUD that apparently came out as filler on the 2/8/70 tape. Since we're missing the middle of this show, I have to wonder if there was more taped.

    5/9/70 - the first four songs on a horrible SBD. Bad as it sounds, why isn't there more?

    11/9/70 - a half-hour AUD with many splices - deadlists speculates that this is a selection from a longer tape.

    [11/10/70 - Though not a mystery, I should mention that this fake date apparently comes from a Marty Weinberg compilation reel - the Not Fade Away is from his 9/20/70 AUD, and the Other One is from 2/23/71. It seems Weinberg did not tape the New York shows after 11/8/70....our loss.]

    11/16/70 - a fragment of a Good Lovin' with Hot Tuna that may come from this date. What happened to the rest of this AUD tape?

    11/21/70 - a complete Other One suite, in SBD. You'd think the rest of the show would be taped, as well.

    [8/17/70 - while I'm at it, another not-so-mysterious tape fake. These acoustic songs are actually from Ken Lee's 6/24/70 recording.]

  5. I dimly recall some of these. The 11/16/70 Good Lovin with Jack and Jorma is the most mysterious, ultimately. Even if it was a night when Hot Tuna played til their fingers were bloody and the taper's cassette ran out, how come we don't at least have a cool Hot Tuna tape from that night?

  6. Marty taped well into 1971 - his audience tapes exist from most of the Portchester 2/71 run, at least one of the Manhattan Center shows, 4/29/71, and even 11/12/71 San Antonio. Unfortunately, a lot of his masters appear to have been taped over, and there seem to have been a good number of shows that he did tape that never got into the hands of others.

  7. I know Weinberg kept taping through 1971 - what I meant to say was, we don't have tapes of his from the NYC November '70 run after the Port Chester shows.
    In an interview, he said he did not go to the Action House shows (Nov 9 & 10). He says he taped the Rock Palace shows from Nov 11-13 - if he did, unfortunately they never were circulated, and we only have the awful 11/11 recording from another taper.
    I wouldn't trust Weinberg's memory completely, as he says he didn't go to the 11/20 Rochester show, but our tape is said by deadlists to be his - the quality is pretty good, anyway.
    Among his surviving reels there was found a brief fragment from an unidentified fall '70 show. Sadly, the majority of his '69/70 masters were taped over.

  8. The "unknown guest slide guitarist" is definitely not Robbie Stokes of Devil's Kitchen. I spoke with Robbie about this and I've also been listening the song to him. Robbie told me that he is not him because he don't played slide until the 80's. He also told me that his former bandmate Bob Laughton (Devil's Kitchen's bass player) played the slide at that time but Robbie is not even certain if is Bob that actually playing in that song.

  9. Great research, Bruno. Too bad about my theory...I wonder who the slide player was? I guess Bob Laughton is as good a guess as any, but its still a mystery who was sitting in on that song.

  10. It appears all the speculation in this post was entirely off-base!
    A close listen to the "9/11/69" tape reveals that it is, in fact, an AUD of the 8/30/69 Family Dog Easy Wind - with Weir on slide guitar. (He played slide in the early versions of this song, as we can hear in other Aug '69 shows.)
    Another mystery date slain... At least the venue was right!

    Not sure what happened to the rest of the tape, but a partial AUD of 8/30/69 (/Dark Star > High Time/) has been available, which may be from a superior copy of the original, complete AUD tape.

    1. Thanks for the great detective work, LIA. And here I was, with yet a new theory (that Garcia was playing slide because Weir was playing the lead figure, as he did on the Aug 70 Calebration video).

      The Sep 11 dating had nagged at me, however, and its sort of reassuring (though of course too bad) to find out that there wasn't a Sep 11 show at all.

    2. I should hasten to mention that the disproving of this date by no means indicates that the Dead or some configuration of them weren't playing "lost" unbilled afternoon shows at the Family Dog - indeed, the survival of 8/28/69 and 9/7/69 shows that they were, and there could easily have been other times too. Maybe not the full Dead, but perhaps some of them along with other musicians... Heck, for all we know, Wales or Guaraldi could've had regular Thursday jams with them.