Sunday, December 26, 2010

Grateful Dead Equipment Truck Itinerary January-February 1970

(a truck very similar to the 1969 Grateful Dead equipment truck--photo courtesy Hewitt)

In the last few decades, there has been plenty of attention to the precise touring schedules of 60s rock bands like the Grateful Dead and others, leading to fairly precise chronologies of where the band was playing on a specific day. While there are numerous tales about the adventures of various bands driving through assorted travails to make a show, little attention has been paid to how the band's equipment arrived. To some extent, there are few "roadie sagas" for 60s rock because bands did not yet tour with their own sound systems. While bands carried their own guitars and usually their own amplifiers, the sound reinforcement system (Public Address Systems) depended on the promoter, sometimes supplemented by an equipment sponsor who provided gear on site. The Grateful Dead's very early commitment to traveling with their own sound system meant that the Dead helped invent the parameters of late 20th century rock touring, because the equipment and the band had to end up in the same town.

By late 1969, the Grateful Dead had a National profile and could perform in many parts of the country, even if their albums sold poorly and the band was always broke. From 1966 onwards, thanks to Owsley, the Dead had defied the model that a rock band should risk their performance to whatever sound equipment a promoter provided, and thus the band brought their own gear to the show. Many 60s groups brought their guitar players amplifiers with them, but vocals and drums were only audible if the Public Address system was adequate, and in many cases the guitarists' amps were the only way those musicians were heard. The concept of mixing sound was unknown besides the Avalon and the Fillmores, and perhaps a few other advanced ballrooms.

The Grateful Dead rejected the catch-as-catch-can nature of touring sound systems, and brought their own sound reinforcement and mixing equipment with them. For venues with good sound systems, like the Fillmores, or major rock festivals, the band could travel with less equipment, but for most venues the group simply brought the whole sound system. The members of the Dead generally flew from venue to venue, as air travel was comparably cheap at the time, but the band's touring schedule was dependent on the equipment truck getting from venue to venue. Thus, the Dead's touring schedule required a coherent itinerary, running East to West or North to South rather than jumping from place to place.

A glance at the current touring schedule of any major band will show how conventional this is today, but the Dead were the first group to both formalize the arrangement and become dependent on it at the same time. This post will look at the Grateful Dead's touring schedule when the band started to link its touring schedule to the equipment truck, and in so doing look at the very beginnings of modern rock touring.

View Grateful Dead Equipment Truck Itinerary January-February 1970 in a larger map

(This map creates a facsimile of the obligations of the Grateful Dead's equipment truck for January and February 1970)

In the past, I have looked in detail at the Grateful Dead's touring schedule for different periods of time. For this post, rather than looking at the band's touring, I am looking at what I have determined to be the itinerary for the Grateful Dead's equipment truck. Since the history of a band's equipment is almost completely undocumented, I have had to make numerous assumptions in order to present a realistic picture. In order not to bog down the post, I have described some of my assumptions at the bottom of the post.

Anyone who can find evidence to correct, update or further refine this itinerary should do so in the Comments or email me. For those who are interested in the touring itinerary of the Grateful Dead, see my posts here
Equipment Trucks
Hewitt Jackson, road manager for the group Sanpaku, San Francisco contemporaries of the Grateful Dead in 1968 and '69, commented on the importance of equipment trucks:
Once a band accumulated too much equipment to be carted around to gigs by the musicians in their individual cars and established a regular equipment crew, what to do? ...Most bands that had roadies seem to have some kind of used truck or van that got their gear from place to place. If not you had to rent a truck, which was expensive. At some point, if the band seemed to have a future it became cost-effective to buy a used furniture or other box truck - I drove many for one band or other.

At any rate I remember that The Dead's crew showed up somewhere in a NEW step van (similar to the one above). It was white with no markings of any kind, kinda stealth. No other band had a truck like this. We were waaaay impressed. [The crew] and I dreamed that someday we would have a similar truck to haul around Sanpaku's equipment. I think The Dead quickly outgrew the step van because they were hauling around Owsley's monster sound system as well.
The Dead and Owsley had seen the future, although at the time it may have seemed that they were just possibly deranged. However, by mid-1969 the Dead could be booked in many parts of the country, but to provide the uncompromising Grateful Dead experience their equipment had to go with them. At the time, the Dead had rented a warehouse at the largely decommissioned Hamilton Air Force Base in Novato, CA, in Marin County. The warehouse was actually near downtown Novato, and a place called Pinky's Pizza, but for practical reasons I have used the main base address for my map (35 Hamilton Drive, Novato, CA, 94949).

When the Dead played shows where they obviously had to fly, then the band either trusted the equipment at the venue, as they did at the Fillmore East, or were simply paid enough to justify the trip regardless of the sound. In some cases, they may have been paid so much that they could fly all their equipment, but I am unable to determine that with any certainty. What follows, then, is not the Grateful Dead's January-February 1970 tour schedule, but the itinerary of the Grateful Dead equipment truck. It is possible that some legs were by plane, but as near as I can tell this is the route driven by the Dead's crew in a truck very similar to the one in the photo above. Based on Hewitt Jackson's comments, it's likely or even possible that their was more than one truck.

January 1970
The Grateful Dead had a brief post-Christmas tour at the end of 1969, in Texas, Florida and Manhattan, but they must have flown. While I cannot account for what equipment they used in Texas (on December 26, 1969 at SMU), they would have used "house" systems at the Hollywood Festival in Florida (Dec 28) and at the Fillmore East (Jan 2-3, 1970). The first trip of the New Year would have been a single Saturday night show in San Diego on January 10, 1970. Assuming the crew drove, the trip would have looked as follows (for precise directions, see the map above):
  • start: 35 Hamilton Drive, Novato, CA, 94949
  • January 10, 1970: Golden Hall, Community Concourse, San Diego, CA ( 202 W C St, San Diego, California 92101)-518 miles
  • return: 35 Hamilton Drive, Novato, CA, 94949-518 miles 
I am confident that the Grateful Dead band members flew to their Saturday night show in San Diego on January 10, but the economics would have encouraged them to send the equipment crew by truck. The crew would have returned to Novato before the trip to the Pacific Northwest. California residents should recognize that Highway 5 was largely incomplete in those days, and the truck(s) would likely have had to take Highway 101, a considerably slower and more difficult drive.

The next weekend (January 15-18), the Dead were playing in the Pacific Northwest. The truck would have had the following itinerary:
  • start: 35 Hamilton Drive, Novato, CA, 94949
  • January 15, 1970: [unknown venue], Seattle, WA (1416 7th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98101)-797 miles. The Seattle date is uncomfirmed, but the date would only have been contemplated because the band had Friday (16) and Saturday (17) shows scheduled in Oregon. If they actually played Seattle, they would have added "just" 161 miles to the drive.
  • January 16, 1970: Springer's Ballroom, Gresham, OR (W. Powell Blvd at SE 182nd Ave, Gresham, OR 97030)-181 miles
  • January 17, 1970: Gill Coliseum, Oregon State U., Corvallis, OR (SW 26th St, Corvallis, Oregon)-97.5 miles
  • January 18, 1970: Springer's Ballroom, Gresham, OR (W. Powell Blvd at SE 182nd Ave, Gresham, OR 97030)-97.5 miles
  • return: 35 Hamilton Drive, Novato, CA, 94949-636 miles
The Grateful Dead played two shows in Hawaii on the weekend of January 23-24, but they obviously flew there, so I have left the dates out of this specialized itinerary. I would be curious as to how much of their sound equipment they took to the venue, but I am unable to answer that question at the time.

After the weekend in Hawaii, the Dead had a weekend show in New Orleans, followed by a show in St. Louis, and then an immediate return to San Francisco. They definitely brought their own equipment on this brief tour, but I do not know if the crew drove or flew. If they drove, the tour itinerary would be as follows:
  • start: 35 Hamilton Drive, Novato, CA, 94949
  • January 30-February 1, 1970: The Warehouse, New Orleans, LA (1820 Tchoupitoulas Street, New Orleans, LA 70130)-2,292 miles. This 2,200+ mile leg may have been flown rather than driven. Keep in mind, however, that the crew would have had to drive to the airport, offload the equipment, fly to the New Orleans Airport, rent a truck and pick up and load the equipment, so it would hardly have been a luxury trip. Many members of the crew may have spent the night of January 31 in jail.
  • February 2, 1970: Fox Theater, St. Louis, MO ( 527 North Grand Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63103)-680 miles. If the crew had rented a truck in New Orleans, they still would have had to drive it to St. Louis. We know from a review that the equipment was late, suggesting winter road problems. keep in mind that winter travel, particularly outside of the West Coast, often requires driving in formidably difficult conditions that are only magnified in a truck ((update: another Commenter found some evidence that the Dead's equipment had been held by the New Orleans police, so they had to rent locally, which would have explained the delay).
  • February 4, 1970: Family Dog On The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA (Balboa Street at Great Highway, San Francisco, CA 94121)-2060 miles. If the band had rented a truck in New Orleans--not a certainty--they would have had to return it in St. Louis, and return to SFO to offload the equipment into their own truck and take it to either Novato or (more likely) directly to the Family Dog. Although most Deadheads would consider Family Dog and Fillmore West shows as "home" shows, for the crew it probably was like most nights, getting in from St Louis just in time to set up in San Francisco, and then breaking down and setting up at Fillmore West.
    February 5-8, 1970: Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA (1545 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94103)-5.9 miles. My own supposition is that the crew did not take the equipment to the Family Dog, but rather to the Fillmore West. I think the Dead used the Family Dog system to play their abbreviated show (update: and presumably they got their equipment back from the New Orleans police, and returned it to the Bay Area).
  • return: 35 Hamilton Drive, Novato, CA, 94949-25.2 miles
For the purposes of this itinerary, even if the Dead's crew had flown to New Orleans and rented a truck, in itself a fairly expensive proposition, the crew still had to drive a truck to St. Louis, so to some extent this leg of the tour depended on an equipment truck. This was distinctly different than flying to a city, playing a venue, and flying home, as the Dead would do the next week (February 11-14), so I have included it on the truck itinerary. 

After the Fillmore West weekend, the Dead flew to New York to play their legendary shows at Fillmore East on February 11 and 13-14, including a show mid-town at Ungano's on February 12. Fillmore East had a great sound system, and it was one of the few venues where the Dead felt comfortable without their own sound system, so the travel is not part of this itinerary.

The Dead's next run of shows was three nights in Texas. I don't know if the band flew from New York to San Francisco to Texas, or direct to Texas--and if so, what did they do in the meantime?--but I have assumed the crew drove the equipment to Texas from California. If they flew, they would have had to have rented a truck in Texas. The all-driving itinerary would have been as follows:
  • start: 35 Hamilton Drive, Novato, CA, 94949
  • February 20, 1970: Panther Hall, Ft. Worth, TX (1000 Throckmorton St, Ft. Worth, TX 76102)-1,723 miles. Just to reiterate, it's possible the crew flew the equipment to Ft. Worth, and rented a truck at DFW.
  • February 21, 1970: Convention Center, San Antonio, TX (200 E. Market St, San Antonio, TX 78205)-267 miles
  • February 22, 1970: Sam Houston Coliseum, Houston, TX (801 Bagby St, Houston, TX 77002)-196 miles
  • February 23, 1970: Municipal Auditorium, Austin, TX (400 S. First St, Austin, TX 78704)-165 miles. Even if the crew had flown to DFW, they still would have had to drive 600 miles in Texas and had to load in and load out the equipment three times in three days. I doubt that they could have gotten a direct flight from Austin to SFO, so they would have had to return to DFW or change planes, which would have added 191 more miles. 
  • return: 35 Hamilton Drive, Novato, CA, 94949-1,773 miles
As I have discussed elsewhere, this was a momentous period for the Dead, including discovering that their manager Lenny Hart was embezzling from them and recording Workingman's Dead. An electric rock band is inextricably bound to their equipment, however, and reviewing the map shows what a brutal touring schedule the band had. Keep in mind also that Winter road conditions are never ideal, and that the Interstate Highway system at the time was considerably less developed, and the driving for the crew must have been even more difficult than the contemporary Google map would suggest.

Although the Dead returned home after their Texas excursion, whether the crew had driven or flown, they would have only had a few days before they loaded up and headed out for the weekend at the Family Dog:
  • start: 35 Hamilton Drive, Novato, CA, 94949
  • February 27-March 1, 1970: Family Dog On The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA (Balboa Street at Great Highway, San Francisco, CA 94121)-24.9 miles
  • return: 35 Hamilton Drive, Novato, CA, 94949-24.9 miles
If the crew drove every leg that I have listed here, the equipment truck and the crew driving it would have logged 12,082 miles. Some commuters may say that they drive 12,000 miles every month or two, but they are not likely to have been driving an overloaded step van at 3 in the morning, on their way to Oregon or St.Louis, with the finances of the band riding on their arrival.

Now, of course, every band on tour probably prints out a Google map of their itinerary as they wend North and South, East and West. The Grateful Dead are currently fashionable for "marketing lessons" they supposedly have imparted, but their impact on modern touring was far greater than has normally been recognized.  Indeed, with GPS and cell phones, the isolation and adventure of the road has probably been normalized. But think about being a long-haired rowdy in 1970, driving a truck from California to the Northwest, and back, and then to the Southeast, and back, and then to the Southwest, and back, bad weather, an old map, no cell phone, on an enterprise with no precedent and no friendly faces at the truck stop.

Other bands took their Fenders and a Marshall or two and hopped on a plane, and if the sound suffered sometime, well, maybe it would be better the next night. Why would a band take on the expense, and add the risk that the equipment didn't even show up--who would do that? The Grateful Dead were living hand-to-mouth in 1970, and even more so when they discovered Lenny Hart's perfidy, so depending on the crew to show up with the truck added a whole new layer of risk to their already rickety enterprise. Of course, the Dead sounded better than any other band touring at the time, and every place they played a legion of Deadheads were converted, so despite the band's defiance of any reasonable Risk Management propositions, their Quixotic insistence on getting the sound right turned out to be a Signpost To New Space rather than a ticket to obscurity, even it meant 12,082 road miles.

Google Map Notes


  1. Nice post Corry,
    A 200 mile or more overnight drive was pretty common then. At times, the Millard Agency was really good at the "at least 5 gigs in 7 days" rule which was possible once we got east of Denver The early Dead crews were legendary for tearing down, loading, driving all night non-stop, unloading and setting up in time for the sound check. OUCH!
    BYW, is there evidence either way on what gear the GD used at Woodstock.

  2. The Dead certainly didn't make things easy for their roadies!
    It's quite an Owsleyan concept, really, to carry your own sound system with you - the idea had started back in '66, but ironically, the Dead quickly got tired of carrying around Owsley's first primitive system & complained it didn't stand up to travel abuse well....even though they were hardly traveling outside of SF or LA back then!

    I now wonder what their practice was in the interim - the occasions from '67-69 when they went cross-country - at what point did a traveling sound system become a given with the Dead? (I suppose Jackson's GD Gear book would have more info on this.)

    (Other bands, of course, were finding that a stack of Marshalls would serve just as well in deafening an audience, in the amplification race of the late '60s...never mind that drums or vocals would often barely be audible...)

    Your statement that the Dead were the only band doing this at the time also makes me wonder - who were the next bands to haul their own sound equipment, and were they influenced by the Dead's example?

  3. The other band who started hauling their own sound around was Fleetwood Mac, once Dinky Dawson took over as road manager/soundman in late '68. One of the early synergies between the Dead and the Mac was Dinky Dawson and Owsley, as both of them were sound pioneers (see my post on 10/1/72).

    I'm not quite sure when other bands started catching on the Dead/Mac model, but most of the good ones had figured out by the early 70s. I think it's confused by the fact that bands would haul around different pieces of the show; the Airplane had their own light show, for example, but not their own sound. By the early 70s, touring bands were more self-contained. I think it was actually Journey (whose manager was the former roadie for Frumious Bandersnatch) who finally put all the pieces together in about 1974, with light, sound, staging and t-shirt sales.

  4. Here's something about an earlier Grateful Dead equipment truck:

  5. Chico, this is a fascinating find. You'd think that someone willing to drop a small fortune on one of Jerry's guitars would want an authentic truck to put it in, but I guess a non-mobile 2-ton hunk of metal isn't really a desirable object.

    I hope they find the artist.

  6. This is a very interesting and well researched article. I've also been curious as to what vehicle(s) the band used to travel between gigs when they weren't flying. Did they have a "Tour Bus" like bands to today? Or did they travel in a passenger van like some bands did back in the day? I haven't seen any mention of the band's early transportation before.

  7. This is a very interesting and well researched article. I've also been curious as to what vehicle(s) the band used to travel between gigs when they weren't flying. Did they have a "Tour Bus" like bands to today? Or did they travel in a passenger van like some bands did back in the day? I haven't seen any mention of the band's early transportation before.

    1. Thanks for the kind words. In those days, the band members pretty much exclusively flew, and they probably had their guitars with them.

      Amps, drums, keyboards and other equipment sometimes flew, sometimes went by truck.

      The luxury tour bus concept was not in use by rock bands in 1970. Country stars toured that way, but they were dealing with different parameters and far less equipment.

  8. I just bought a 1988 peterbilt that was supposed to be purchased new by the Grateful Dead, used to move their equipment. I'll keep you posted when the documentation arrives.