Thursday, February 23, 2012

David Nelson and The New Delhi River Band, Summer 1966 (David Nelson I)

The earliest known flyer for a New Delhi River Band performance, at Losers South in San Jose, CA, in August of 1966
The New Delhi River Band were founded in Palo Alto, CA in the Summer of 1966. They were one of the first psychedelic blues bands formed in the South Bay--though of course not the very first--, and they had a significant following in the South Bay underground. The group is usually remembered today, if at all, for being the first rock band for future New Riders of The Purple Sage David Nelson and Dave Torbert. Since the band never released any recordings, however, and the venues where they thrived are lost in the mists of time, the New Delhi River Band is just a ghost.

Despite substantial efforts by the group in 1967, The New Delhi River Band never succeeded outside of their South Bay turf, and the members moved on to other pursuits. My research seems to suggest, however, that they were an interesting and popular band in the little universe of the South Bay underground in 1966 and 1967, and their story makes a great case study on how regional bands help shape scenes while getting left behind themselves—the story of The New Delhi River Band stands for the tale of every cool local long haired band in 1966 and 1967 who never got big past the County Line, living on as a fond, hazy memory of their fans.

David Nelson was one of Jerry Garcia's best friends, and Nelson's career presents an interesting counterpoints to Garcia's. The Grateful Dead were the South Bay's first psychedelic blues band, of course, and the New Delhi River Band's ups and downs shed light on different ways in which the Dead were both fortunate and special. By the time Nelson and Garcia reconnected in 1969 with the New Riders of The Purple Sage, Nelson had had his own odyssey, far less legendary than Garcia's but fascinating nonetheless. This post will be part of a series on the hitherto lost history of the New Delhi River Band.

In a 21st century interview for RD Records, drummer Chris Herold recalled
NDRB was a really fine band. Some very fond memories of the formative time. We were one of the first white blues bands, probably THE first in the Bay Area. We were Butterfield Blues Band fans and it showed in our music. We also drew from all the old greats Robert Johnson, Willie Dixon, Lightnin' Hopkins, Muddy Waters . . . the list goes on. The band members were: Sweet John Tomasi (vocals and harmonica), Peter Sultzbach (lead guitar), David Nelson (rhythm guitar), Dave Torbert (bass) and me [Chris Herold] on drums.”
David Nelson played a critical role in Jerry Garcia's career, both before the Grateful Dead and during their existence. After the New Delhi River Band ended in early 1968, Nelson re-appeared in Garcia's universe at the end of 1968, participating in the Aoxomoxoa sessions (although probably not appearing on the record). More importantly, Nelson, along with Garcia and John Dawson, was a founding member of the New Riders Of The Purple Sage, Garcia's first extra-curricular band. In subsequent decades, Nelson made all sorts of great music, with and without Garcia, and continues to do so in both the revitalized New Riders and the David Nelson Band.

This chronology would not have been possible without the dedicated efforts of Ross Hannan, Chris Recker, the late Russell Towle and David Nelson. Anyone with additional information, insights, corrections or recovered memories (real or imagined) is urged to Comment or email me.

Genesis of The New Delhi River Band: Palo Alto, California, Early 1960s
Palo Alto, 32 miles South of San Francisco on Highway 101, was the College town associated with nearby Stanford University, and the city and its residents have always considered themselves special. This sense of specialness has always set Palo Alto apart from (and annoyed) its nearest neighbors, Menlo Park (to the North) and Mountain View and Los Altos (to the South). When the Stanford Shopping Center undermined the businesses on University Avenue in the 1950s, downtown Palo Alto became somewhat of a ghost town. Too far from campus to benefit much from the College students, downtown became a hangout for coffee-drinking folkies like Jerry Garcia.

In the early 1960s, just about every ‘College Town’ in America had some sort of folk scene. The Cambridge, MA and Greenwich Village scenes which began Joan Baez (Palo Alto High School, class of ’58) and Bob Dylan’s careers were the most developed, but every college had something like it. There was a modest circuit of South Bay clubs, including the Off Stage in San Jose (near San Jose State), the Top of The Tangent in Palo Alto (at 117 University Avenue, between High and Alma) and the Boar’s Head in San Carlos. While the venues and audiences were small, many of the local folk, bluegrass and blues performers on that circuit became famous in 60s rock bands. Among the many local stalwarts were banjoist Jerry Garcia, guitarist Jorma ‘Jerry’ Kaukonen’ and singers Paul Kantner and David Freiberg.

For aspiring musicians in the mid-60s, however, the Folk boom had already crested the wave, notwithstanding that its most famous practitioners (like Joan Baez) were quite successful. Jerry Garcia, for example, working in Palo Alto and living in Menlo Park, had a series of bluegrass bands in 1962 and ’63 with his friend David Nelson and poet Robert Hunter. In 1964, Garcia had also formed a jug band with various friends who included Bob Weir and Ron ‘Pigpen’ Mckernan. Although both ventures were musically fruitful, gigs were few and far between. Nelson was a sometime member of the Jug Band, but in early 1965, Nelson and Robert Hunter went to Los Angeles, in order to "explore Scientology."

David Nelson
David Nelson (born Seattle, WA June 12, 1943) grew up in San Mateo and went to Carlmont High School in Belmont, graduating in 1961. As the sixties continued, Nelson was part of the group of serious bluegrass musicians playing the tiny coffee houses of the South Bay. Nelson was in some of the South Bay’s leading bluegrass bands, like the Wildwood Boys and Black Mountain Boys, with Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, and after a brief stint at Oakland’s College of Arts and Crafts, he joined the East Bay’s leading bluegrass band The Pine Valley Boys, with Butch Waller and Herb Pedersen. By 1965, however, bluegrass had been trumped by The Beatles and expanding consciousness. Nonetheless, since the Pine Valley Boys were based in Los Angeles in 1964-65, Nelson's peculiar trip to 'explore Scientology' in mid-65 was not as far-fetched as it may seem.

At the time, electric rock bands were never taken seriously. They had mostly played surf music or the “Louie Louie” styled R&B coming out of the Pacific Northwest. Many folk musicians moonlighted in such bands for a few bucks, but hardly thought about it. The advent of The Beatles and A Hard Day’s Night changed everything. The British Invasion that followed the Beatles not only brought forth lightweights like Herman’s Hermits but serious shouters like The Rolling Stones, The Animals, Them and The Yardbirds. A ‘teen circuit’ had sprung up in the South Bay, and although much of it was trivial, there was a chance for local bands to play some funky electric blues in the style of the Stones or The Animals. In early 1965, Pigpen suggested to Garcia and Weir that they form an electric blues band to replace their jug band, and The Warlocks were formed.

In May, 1965 the Warlocks played every Wednesday at Magoo’s Pizza in Menlo Park (at 639 Santa Cruz Avenue), beginning the long strange trip of the Grateful Dead. If Nelson and Hunter had been in Palo Alto, they might have been part of the Dead from the beginning. Nelson had been one of Garcia’s principal bluegrass conspirators, but he was not invited to join the Warlocks because he was out of the town at that moment, and in any case Nelson was not planning on being an electric guitarist at the time. However, by the time Nelson returned from LA, later in 1965, the Warlocks were fully established without him [update: Nelson and Hunter had indeed been in Los Angeles in early 1965, but I had the chronology garbled, as some Commenters pointed out. See below for some amazing memories from David Nelson, via David Gans, about 'going electric," and how David Nelson introduced Phil Lesh to the electric bass in about half-an-hour).

update: I found a photo of 661 Waverley St, where Jerry Garcia and Rick Shubb lived in late '65. Built 1893, burned down by an arsonist 1981 Now condos. Note the turret at left.

In Fall 1965, Nelson moved into a communal house on the corner of Waverley Street and Channing Avenue. Banjo-playing artist Rick Shubb held the lease, and residents in the fall of 1965 included Jerry Garcia and his wife Sara, Robert Hunter and David Nelson. The "Waverley Street House" (on the 600 block, odd side, long since torn down and replace by condos), was a large purple Edwardian with turrets.

According to an eyewitness, 18-year old Foothill College student Chris Recker, the whole Palo Alto bohemian scene was about 30 people (not counting Ken Kesey’s crowd, whom all the older people knew). They all lived in just a few places, like the “Channing House” (on the 400 block of Channing between Waverley and Cowper), and the house where Recker lived on Forest and Cowper. In the beginning of 1966, Garcia moved out of the Waverley Street House, going with the Grateful Dead to Los Angeles. Shubb held onto the least for a few more months, but he left, too. Nelson moved over to the Channing House sometime in the Spring of '66.

Whatever Nelson’s plans had been, they changed when he went to San Francisco’s Longshoreman’s Hall for The Trips Festival on January 21, 22 and 23, 1966. LSD and The Grateful Dead kicked the doors of perception open for David Nelson just as it would for so many others.

The Outfit
Among the residents of the Channing Avenue House was one Carl Moore, who while holding down a regular job had ideas towards something better. Moore, Nelson and some others concocted the idea of a Trips Festival inspired nightclub called 'The Outfit.' The idea, according to Nelson, was that there would be a nightclub, a band and a light show all called The Outfit. Strange as a permanent Acid Test may seem today as a commercial venture, remember that LSD was still legal in mid-1966, so the concept would have appeared cutting edge rather than merely ill-advised.

A parking garage now covers the site of the mysterious Outfit club in Palo Alto (photo: Corry-2010)
Moore seems to have focused on finding the performance space, while Nelson hatched plans to put together a band. Moore found a deserted warehouse over by the railroad tracks, and Recker recalls that local carpenter Bill Shuman was hired to build a huge stage in the middle of the building. The building where The Outfit was located on Homer Avenue Homer Lanea street that no longer exists in Palo Alto (update: it turns out that it was on Homer Avenue--Homer Lane was in Menlo Park. The google maps location is still accurate, however). For local residents, it was behind Town And Country Village, on the West (Stanford) side of the railroad tracks, opposite Homer Avenue (which was East of the tracks). For Google mappers, search Urban Lane and Wells Avenue (Palo Alto 94301) for an approximate location. The area is now the parking lot for the Palo Alto Medical Center (as shown in the photo above).

It is fairly likely, though not certain, that The Outfit was located in the same building that would later become Homer's Warehouse in Palo Alto in 1972. Old And In The Way and Garcia/Saunders would play Homer's Warehouse (at 79 Homer Avenue) a number of times in 1973. If the site of Homer's Warehouse was not the site of The Outfit, they would have been within a few buildings of each other.

Memories of The Outfit are fairly muddled--why would that be, do you think?--but you can find traces of it on the Internet if you poke around. One peculiarity has been that most people could not recall the name of the venue. Chris Recker remembered the name of the club, but it was David Nelson, when he was kind enough to take time to discuss it with me in Greensboro, NC, who recalled that the plan was that the band, club and light show would have the same name, but that there was only one Saturday night where they managed to put on an event. Neal Cassady was invited to the event to give it appropriate Acid Test cachet, and he was present, but even Nelson could not recall the date. Some fuzzy Palo Alto memories also understandably confuse The Big Beat Acid Test with The Outfit, but they were distinctly different places, even if many of the same people attended both events.

External evidence suggests that The Outfit was open for a single Saturday night in June of 1966. The event would not have been publicized through regular means, like the local newspaper, and there was no underground press at the time. Chris Recker vaguely recalls more than one event, but that may simply be conflated memory working its tricks. I trust Nelson here: The Outfit had one memorable event, with Neal Cassady, a new band featuring Nelson, a lot of madness and no financial viability whatsoever. There is a good chance that the space was used for a few other events, pretty much just parties, which accounts for Recker's memories.

No flyers or posters have survived for The Outfit, and I expect that Carl Moore had no permits nor wanted to attract the attention of any authorities. LSD was perfectly legal, but the police knew that where there was LSD there was pot and speed, and it wasn’t hard to make arrests. The bohemians who wanted to attend these events all knew each other, so any publicity would merely have attracted squares, and with them, the cops. 

The Outfit's light show was fairly sophisticated for the time. The main proponents were two Stanford art students named Paul Mittig and Gayle Curtis. Both men were forward-looking practitioners of modern art (Russell Towle recalls seeing a display of Mittig’s computer art at Stanford), and Light Shows were what was hip in the mid 60s. As was typical of the 60s, while a few inspired designers planned the light show, numerous helpers were required to manage the actual effects. One attendee at The Outfit was Neal Casady's psychiatrist, Dr. Leon Tabory, who among other things was the proprietor of a nascent psychedelic club in the Santa Cruz Mountains called The Barn. Tabory drafted Mittig and Curtis for The Barn and renamed them The Magic Theater (a sample of their work can be seen on the back cover of the first Country Joe And The Fish album, photographed at The Barn).

The Band
Chris Recker was a regular visitor and eventually a resident of the Channing Avenue House in early 1966, and he recalls the process by which the band was formed that would ultimately become the New Delhi River Band. In the wake of A Hard Day’s Night and The Byrds "Mr. Tambourine Man," “Folk-Rock” elbowed aside Folk music. One such early folk-rock group was a South Bay band called Bethlehem Exit. Bethlehem Exit's members were from Cupertino and Los Altos, towns just South of Palo Alto. Chris Recker, then a Foothill College student living in Los Altos (this was before he moved to Channing Avenue) recalls seeing Bethlehem Exit in an obscure Los Altos coffee shop in Fall 1965. They were a four-piece Byrds style band at the time, led by guitarist Peter Sultzbach.

By Spring 1966, Bethlehem Exit had morphed somewhat into a bluesier sound. John Tomasi had joined the group on harmonica and vocals, probably replacing the other guitarist. Recker recalls seeing the Butterfield Blues Band with John Tomasi, probably in March 1966, and the Butterfield Blues Band had had a huge effect on them, as it did on so many young musicians. It's not certain who the drummer was, although he may have been named Chris Engstrom.

The Bethlehem Exit did release a bluesy sounding single in 1966, “Walk Me Out”/”Blues Concerning My Girl” (Jabberwock 110). The label was based in Walnut Creek (and had nothing to do with Berkeley’s Jabberwock folk club), leading to the false assumption that the band was from Contra Costa County. How Bethlehem Exit came to record for a Walnut Creek label remains unknown. Nevertheless, Bethelehem Exit did play a few shows in the East Bay (I know of five—see the Appendix below) between March 25 and May 27, 1966.

Chris Recker had a buddy named Zu McDonald who was friendly with Bethlehem Exit. At some point, probably around Spring of 1966, Zu had brought over a couple of members of the band to meet David Nelson, and the idea was hatched of a hip white blues band on the Butterfield model. The very first rehearsals of the New Delhi River Band featured John Tomasi on vocals and harmonica, Peter Sultzbach on lead guitar, David Nelson on rhythm, a forgotten drummer and a friend named Austin Keith on bass. Recker saw some of the rehearsals, and said that Keith was a converted guitar player who had clearly never played bass before, as he mostly tried to strum chords on the bass.

The group played blues and R&B songs like “Messin With The Kid”, “Youngblood” and “Suzie Q.” The history of the name is unknown, but whatever the meaning, The New Delhi River Band was born as The Outfit. One eyewitness (Greg Troll) recalls that the New Delhi River Band sounded more like John Mayall than Paul Butterfield, but that too was still high praise for the 1960s, as Mayall’s freewheeling blues improvisations were a popular attraction at the Fillmore. In mid-1966, there were very few blues bands in the South Bay. About the only other ones I know about were a reputedly pretty good group called Manbevil based in Palo Alto, and a Redwood City band called The Good News, who would soon play an important part in the NDRB story.

Although David Nelson was a former bluegrass musician with no previous “electric” experience, Chris Recker recalls Nelson’s critical role in the NDRB sound:
Dave listened to all kinds of music and dug the James Brown stuff. He really chopped out the chords and handed it to you on a silver platter. He was a rhythm section's dream. Kind of like Freddie Greene who was the guitarist in the Count Basie Band, who didn't solo but was the heartbeat of the band.

The New Delhi River Band
Even I am not certain of the first New Delhi River Band performance. At this point I am uncertain who even played bass and drums for the first few months. I think the drummer from Bethlehem Exit was the initial drummer for the NDRB (possibly named Chris Engstrom), but I am uncertain about that, too. Austin Keith may have played bass for the show by The Outfit, and probably some early gigs, but that too is uncertain. I have also been unable to identify any venues, much less actual dates, up until August of 1966, other than The Outfit.

When I raised the subject of bass players with David Nelson, he rather unexpectedly said that John Dawson played bass for the New Delhi River Band. But Nelson ruefully added "he only lasted one gig. He wasn't really a bass player." Dawson's brief tenure explains why Pete Frame included him as an NDRB member in the New Riders Family Tree, where I first heard of The New Delhi River Band and The Barn.

However, I have been able to determine that by August the NDRB were playing an extended engagement at a “Teen” (under 21) club in San Jose called Losers South, at 1500 Almaden Expressway (confusingly paired with the adult Losers North in the same complex).  The New Delhi River Band played there for a few weeks, opening for Roy Head for at least a weekend, and then opening for Them on their legendary American tour. Carl Moore and the Channing Street crew (including Rusty Towle and Chris Recker) did the light show, under the name The Outfit, the last trace of the lost Palo Alto venue. At least once, some members of Them (although not Van Morrison) came back to Channing Street to hang out and got a full taste of Palo Alto psychedelia.

Thanks to Van Morrison’s fame, a flyer survives of Them’s engagement, from August 16-21, 1966 seen at the top  of this post. On the flyer, the opening band was listed as New Dalie River Band, not the last time the group’s name was oddly spelled. Whether this was a folklore joke or something else remains beyond my sources at this time. The other act was a San Jose band, People! (yes, with the exclamation point). The bassist for People! was Geoff Levin, who had played in bluegrass bands with Garcia and Nelson.

A long-lost flyer for the New Delhi River Band's second week at Losers South in San Jose, from August 24-29, 1966 (thanks Yellow Shark)

update: Fellow scholar Yellow Shark uncovered a long-lost flyer for the second week of the New Delhi River Band's engagement at Losers South. After two weeks opening for Roy Head,  Them and People!, NDRB stayed on to headline the next week. I do not know anything about The Dutch Masters, The Cardboard Scheme or Arthur. Note that The Outfit Traveling Medicine Show is billed as well. There was also a Sunday afternoon (August 29) "Battle Of The Bands," probably just featuring high school groups.

Based on my current information, the NDRB was probably just Nelson, Tomasi, Schulzbach and Austin Keith on bass. I think no one played drums in the early days. Strange as that sounds today, folk ensembles were used to playing without drummers, so it may not have seemed so strange to them musicians.

update 2: eyewitness Brad, a former employee of Losers South, recalls the venue in an email:

Loser's North was the "adult" side of the complex. It had a full bar and it's entourage of rummy's from open to close as I recall. South was interesting in that no alcohol was served or even allowed in. Plenty of dope smoking though. A couple of low level goomba's named Phil and Lenny Macarelli ran the place. They were on the payroll of local Mafioso Joseph Cerrito. Hawaiian Gardens had been there for years prior to both North and South. I can recall having dinner there with my parents in the late 50's early 60's. Another satellite was Ann Darling Bowl on the east side. I recall walking into Phil's office one day to ask for my pay while a meeting was going down with a bunch of characters right out of central casting. We're talking black pinstripes with black shirts and white ties and fedoras. Scared the bejesus out of me. Looked like an old noir movie set. I later set up a buy with those guys for 50 kilos of Mexican weed. $50/key if I remember correctly. 

I remember NDRB quite well at Loser's. Seems to me they were almost the house band as they played frequently that summer of '66. A few songs still stand out: Susie Q and Morning Dew. Creedence Clearwater later made Susie Q a hit but it was nowhere near as good as the NDRB version. I had heard The Warlocks do Morning Dew a year earlier and am still more impressed by the NDRB version. Sure wish someone had recorded those shows but I have no recollection of any recording taking place. Pretty primitive soundboard and system. Mainly just amps/mics with individual settings and a PA system turned up loud...

was also present when someone from Them came to Palo Alto, and joined a party, possibly at The Outfit
That Saturday night in question was August 20, 1966. I recall it (well most of it) like it was yesterday. Carl from "The Outfit" was doing his light show while Them played. After the show was over, I helped Carl pack up the light show equipment and loaded it onto a flat bed truck. Michael Harvey (Them drummer) and I then jumped on the back of the truck and we rode up the freeway to Palo Alto. Indeed, Neal Cassidy was at the place in Palo Alto you mention. No idea where exactly it was located but I do recall it being the headquarters for everything. That night started a friendship with Neal that changed my life. I was at his wake in Big Sur in March 1968. 
Although David Nelson assured me there was only one "show" at The Outfit, Chris Recker and others recall somewhat foggily that there were still a few parties there on occasion, and this must have been one of them. 

The Barn, Scotts Valley
The story of The New Delhi River Band is inextricably intertwined with a mostly forgotten venue in the Santa Cruz Mountains called The Barn. The Barn, known as 'The Fillmore of The Mountains," was only open from mid-66 through mid-68, and indeed it was closed during much of that time as well. What little information is available on The Barn mostly comes from our site, and what is posted there is fairly outdated. By the Fall of 1966, the New Delhi River Band would become the "House Band" of The Barn, whatever exactly that meant. After The Barn closed, it disappeared without a trace. I can recall being at the Foothill College radio station in 1975 and reading Pete Frame's New Riders Family Tree (promulgated as part of a Columbia Records promo package), and finding out about both The New Delhi River Band and The Barn for the first time. The Barn was located in Scotts Valley, less than 8 years and 30 minutes from where I was standing when I first read about it (Moody Road in Los Altos), and it was as if it had never existed at all.

Eric Nord, proprietor of a string of coffee houses that included the famous Hungry I in San Francisco and the Sticky Wicket in Aptos (in Southern Santa Cruz County), had opened a coffee house and art gallery in a converted dairy barn in Fall, 1965. Scotts Valley, an isolated mountain town at the time, did not take kindly to the sort of beatniks who visited the coffee shop. The coffee house closed in early 1966, but to the dismay of the locals it was taken over by the Santa Cruz psychiatrist, Dr. Leon Tabory.  Tabory started presenting rock shows in the relatively cavernous upstairs part of the structure, which had hitherto been used for square dances and basketball games. The Barn rapidly coalesced from a “Performance Space” to the “Fillmore Of The Mountains.”  Some of the San Francisco bands played there, and it appears that guest appearances by famous musicians who were in the area were not unknown.  The Barn is remembered fondly by anyone who ever attended or played there, but memories are very fuzzy (why, do you think?).

Tabory (1925-2009) was a remarkable man whose story is too much to tell in this context. Tabory had been Neal Cassady's prison psychiatrist. After testifying to help defend a Prankster (Peter Demma) in an obscenity case, he focused on the idea that people needed a 'performance space' to express themselves.  The earliest known rock show at The Barn is May 22, 1966, with Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, but it may have begun before that. In any case, by Summer 1966 The Barn had become the hip place to hang out in the South Bay on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

I now know, however, that Tabory got his insight into how The Barn should operate from visiting The Outfit. Whether or not Tabory ever went to the Fillmore or Avalon is unclear, but in any case he would not likely have gone on his own, as he was considerably older than most of the bohemians. It appears he went to The Outfit through his connection with Neal Cassady. Tabory hired Gayle Curtis and Paul Mittig to do the light shows at The Barn, and they named themselves The Magic Theater, and a local Santa Cruz artist (Joe Lyzowski) painted psychedelic murals on the walls of The Barn. Carl Moore and others at Channing Avenue continued to operate as a free lance light show called The Outfit after Curtis and Mittig left.

Its important to remember that in Summer and Fall 1966, long hair, weed and the blues were pretty Underground commodities. Outside of the Haight Ashbury and the vicinity of Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, such people weren’t welcome. One of the very few safe, fun places in the South Bay to go for adults who aspired to that was The Barn. South Bay bohemians, Merry Pranksters, future South Bay hippies, Gypsy Joker bikers, members of the Family Dog and other fringe characters knew that they had a safe haven on weekends at the converted Dairy Barn off Granite Creek Road. The New Delhi River Band became regular performers at the hippest place outside of San Francisco, and they are fondly (if somewhat fuzzily) remembered by all who saw them there.

New Delhi River Band Concert History, Spring-Summer 1966

Bethlehem Exit
Peter Sultzbach-lead guitar
John Tomasi-harmonica, vocals
Dave Wilkie-bass
Chris Engstrom-drums
Bethlehem Exit had debuted at a small, obscure coffee shop in Los Altos in Fall 1965, probably with Sultzbach and some other members. The band members were apparently from Cupertino and Los Altos, towns near Palo Alto. They released a single for a Walnut Creek label ("Walk Me Out"/"Blues Concerning My Girl" for Jabberwock Records, not associated with the Berkeley club) and had some gigs around the East Bay.

March 25, 1966: The Bear’s Lair, UC Berkeley: The Wildflower/Bethlehem Exit ("Frantic Folk-Kick")
The show also featured movies from “Kesey’s Trip” and “Sassy Sophie from El Cid” (presumably a burlesque dancer).

April 15, 1966: The Bear’s Lair, UC Berkeley: Bethlehem Exit/The Answer/The Exiles (“Trip Dance”)

April 24, 1966: North Field, UC Berkeley: Country Joe And The Fish/Malvina Reynolds/Wildflower/Dan Paik/Chris Selsor/Gothic Cathedral Jug Band/Bethlehem Exit
(Robert Scheer For Congress Benefit)

May 6, 1966: Wurster Hall, UC Berkeley: Latin AllStars/John Handy/Quicksilver Messenger Service/Bethlehem Exit (“Beaux Arts Ball.”)
The Beaux Arts Ball was a campus-wide arts festival of sorts. Wurster Hall was the newly-constructed building for the Department of Architecture. The current configuration of the building would not support a dance/concert. This event may have been in the building's basement.

May 27, 1966: 321 Divisadero, San Francisco: Bethlehem Exit
A KPFA sponsored 'Happening' (possibly held May 28). “No dancing” was part of the advertising, typical of a lot of San Francisco events, due to an archaic law about Dance Permits.

Summer 1966: The Outfit, Palo Alto, CA

The Outfit/New Delhi River Band
John Tomasi-vocals, harmonica
Peter Sultzbach-lead guitar
David Nelson-guitar
Austin Keith?-bass
Chris Engstrom?-drums
The date for this remains murky, but it most likely was after the demise of Bethlehem Exit, possibly in mid-June of 1966. David Nelson told me that the plan was to have an ongoing band and nightclub, but they only managed one show. Chris Recker has a vestigal memory of an East Bay band called The Soul Survivors (not the East Coast band who did "Expressway To Your Heart") playing at The Outfit, so perhaps they played as well. Recker also murkily recalls Nelson playing bass with the Soul Survivors on an emergency basis.

There must be some New Delhi River Band shows in the July 1966 period, but I have found no trace of them so far. Bass players and drummer may have come and gone, including John Dawson for one unknown show.

Update: I have since learned from David Nelson himself (via David Gans) that the early New Delhi River Band didn't even have a drummer. Someone, presumably Austin Keith, played bass. John Dawson played one show at The Barn, probably in September or October of 1966. Chris Herold was the band's first drummer, and he in turn brought in Dave Torbert.

August 9-14, 1966: Losers South, San Jose: Roy Head/New Delhi River Band
The New Delhi River Band's earliest confirmed performance is opening for Roy Head at a San Jose club called Losers South. Losers South was at 1500 Almaden Expressway, and was formerly a restaurant called the Hawaiian Gardens (there was a Losers North in the same complex, to add to the confusion). The venue made a stab at booking ‘underground’ bands during the summer of 1966. The date is approximated. Roy Head may not have been the headliner for more than a few days, and other groups may have played. I suspect that NDRB may have gotten the booking because The Outfit provided the light show.

Roy Head had scored some hits, particularly with the song "Treat Her Right." Chris Recker, who helped with the lights, recalled Head singing while fronting a tight trio with a fine guitarist (Head was not the guitarist at this time. Jerry Garcia fans will note that this configuration also means that Sarah Fulcher had left Head's band by this time.)

August 16-21, 1966:  Losers South, San Jose: Them/People!/New Delhi River Band
A memorable early gig of the New Delhi River Band was opening for Van Morrison and Them for a week at Losers South. Them were a legendary British Invasion band at this point, on their first, last and seminal American tour. Them were sensational Irish rockers (they had recorded “Gloria” in 1964), yet at the same time, Van Morrison was just starting to move towards the mystical Irish soul music he would become famous for. Indeed, he had just met Janet (Planet) Rigsbee, his future wife and the world’s Brown-Eyed Girl, in San Leandro on May 27 at the Rollarena in San Leandro.

Them’s records had had a huge impact on West Coast music already, but their stay on the West Coast from May through July was memorable as well. Them's three-week stint at the Whisky was a revelation to the opening act The Doors, and Jim Morrison based his “Lizard King” stage persona and Van’s brooding but energetic performances (unlikely as that may seem now). At Loser South, the bluesy New Delhi River Band opened the show and The Outfit provided the lights. The Irish lads hung out with the blues band and came back to the Channing house on at least one occasion. On the poster, the group is billed as “New Dalie River Band.” People, second on the bill, were a popular San Jose band As a telling footnote, People bassist Geoff Levin had been in a bluegrass band with David Nelson. 

August 24-29, Losers South, San Jose: New Delhi River Band/Dutch Masters/Cardboard Scheme/Arthur
After two weeks, the NDRB seem to have done well enough to headline the last week.

September 3, 1966: Trip City Skate Arena, Hayward:  Loading Zone/New Delhi River Band
With the advent of the Fillmore and Avalon, all sort of local teen dance clubs renamed themselves things like ‘Trip City.’The Skate Arena was at 650 A Street in Hayward.

Thursday nights, September 1966: The Barn, Scotts Valley
I know that in the first, glorious year of The Barn it was only open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. On Friday and Saturday, the headline acts were often groups who played the Fillmore and the Avalon. There were not many venues for such bands to play, so The Barn got their share (although the Grateful Dead never played there, whatever you may read). On Thursday nights, however, local bands played, and it was more about hanging out than a concert. Although I have been unable to pin it down for certain, I'm pretty sure that the New Delhi River Band played some of these Thursday nights around September of 1966, and they must have been good enough to graduate to weekend shows. 

An ad from the Santa Cruz Sentinel on Friday, September 23, 1966, promoting the New Delhi River Band at The Barn on that Saturday
September 23-25, 1966: The Barn, Scotts Valley: New Delhi River Band/Mercy Street Blues Machine
An esteemed scholar found a remarkable ad in the local daily, The Santa Cruz Sentinel, from September 23, 1966, promoting The Barn. The New Delhi River Band are advertised for the next night (Saturday September 24) as well as Sunday afternoon (Sep 25). Also booked are the The Outfit light show and the Mercy Street Blues Machine. The Mercy Street Blues Machine, sometimes known as The Hershey Gumbo Band, was a sort of free jazz/performance art ensemble put together by Chris Recker and a partner (Ralph Sanders). Recker and Sanders lived in Palo Alto near the NDRB, and while a bit younger than them, were very much a part of that scene.

September 30-October 1 (?), 1966: Losers South, San Jose: The Doors/New Delhi River Band
I saw the New Riders of The Purple Sage in Greensboro, NC on July 8, 2010 (they were great). After the show, I had a chance to speak with David Nelson, who was quite astonished to find that anybody was looking into the history of The New Delhi River Band. After he got over his surprise, Nelson couldn't have been nicer, taking a few minutes to sort out some details and opened the door to some other astonishing recollections.

When I showed Nelson a scan of the Losers South show with Them (up top), he turned to his bass player, who was sitting next to him, and said "Losers South! That's what I was trying to remember. It was Losers South where we opened for Them." Amazingly, he went on: "We opened for The Doors there also." He then told his bass player "That's what I was telling you about and I couldn't remember the place."

I am fully aware of the known chronology of The Doors history, and the fact that no such date is listed. However, particularly having seen Nelson's spontaneous reaction to the flyer, I am confident that Nelson has a clear, specific memory of opening for The Doors. Looking at known Doors performances for late Summer 1966, a Bay Area performance in the last weekend of September  would make chronological sense. The Doors had been exiled from The Whisky A Go Go on August 18, signed by Elektra, recorded their first album over the week of August 24-31, but did not go to New York (Ondine's) until October 31. A quick trip up Highway 101 at the end of September would be quite plausible. Elektra Records would not have wanted to expose them at the Fillmore or the Avalon without an album, but expanding their buzz a little bit would be promotionally shrewd. Losers South had already been booking artists like Jackie DeShannon, so they had plenty of LA connections.

After the surprising revelation about The Doors, Nelson added that he had been looking for his New Delhi River Band demo tape. A poorly recorded 4-song demo had been known to exist, but this was another tape. According to Nelson, "We did a demo of all our songs, we recorded it in this guy's basement, it has like 15 or 16 songs." He added: "I never throw out a tape." Good for him. So while the New Delhi River Band has been lost to history up until now, they turn out to have merely been submerged, not gone. The next three installments of this series will explore the history and the performances of the New Delhi River Band, with the fervent hope that David Nelson will find that tape and bring them up above the water line.

Part 2 of the saga of The New Delhi River Band can be seen here

Appendix: David Gans recently interviewed David Nelson, and was kind enough to share some of Nelson's amazing stories (interview by DG on January 10, 2012):

DN: I got with The Pine Valley Boys and went to Los Angeles and played with Herb Pedersen and Butch Waller.
DG: You went to LA To play bluegrass?

DN: Hunter was in LA
DG: What was he doing in LA?
DN: I don't want to say.
DG: The Scientology thing?
DN: Yeah.

DN: So [Rick] Shubb comes over on that day. So that day, I think it was nine people or thirteen people or something like that that, all took acid at the same time for their first time. It was Jerry and Sara, me, Eric Thompson, David and Bonnie [Parker], Rick Shubb, and then some more – I swear there was more, but anyway that was the hard core – then we all decided, “Yeah I think it's best the first time, I'm kind of queasy and nervous and let's all go off and then we'll meet, you know when we're there.” That was a good idea. I went and laid on the bed and stuff started to go swirling around and everything and I’d go, “I feel good now.”
.... And several of us are sitting there and we talked, “What if there's like some dangerous pitfalls and things to watch out for? We gotta go ask Hunter! He's done it before.” And so we all run down over to Ramona Street and knock on his door and he looks at us and he goes, “Do you always jump out of planes without a parachute?” We said, “Please, please Mr. Man, will you please help us here?” So he says, “Okay, just a minute.” And we come in and he's got chairs lined up.
DG: He was expecting you?
DN: No, no, he just said, “Just a minute” and he set these chairs up facing him, you know. So he was sitting like this and I remember him talking and it sounding really profound, but I remember he made a gesture like this – then it just goes “pfeew” and I saw “brrd, brrd, brrd, brrrrrrrrrrrd” a fan, the fingers. “Brrrrrrd, brrrrrrrd, brrrrrrd”. My eyes just went “waahhh” and that was it. For me, that was it. The visual stuff was just like so fantastic.

Then we went back to the house and we discovered looking at yourself in the mirror is a total thing. It's like, “Who is that? I didn't know I looked like that!” You don't look the same. You really don't. And you look at your hand, it doesn't look like the same hand. There's all kinds of stuff – really fun. Anyway, so that started the thing of, "I think we're going to go electric."

DN: There was a lot of talk on what we called the "trips couch." "Come on over here and sit on the trips couch," you know? And there was talk about going electric. Yeah! Jerry and me both recalled, remember those nights just a couple years ago we'd get together and just do old rock and roll songs all night long? Once you do one - “Oh yeah, let's do 'Searchin',” you know. “Let's do all that kind of stuff.” And Jerry even had a couple of gigs through Stanford University where it was him and some – Troy Weidenheimer, who already played electric, because electric wasn't out of the question. Not at all. It was to the world, the media and everything. But... rock and roll is where I started in music actually. And Troy Weidenheimer was a working electric guitar player. We used to just admire him and sit there and watch him play. I later played a couple of gigs - I played bass with Troy Weidenheimer. So, there's all this thinking about yeah, go electric. I’m still working with The Pine Valley Boys, but Eric [Thompson] comes by one time to Gilman Street and says, “Hey, they're practicing down at Dana Morgan's Music Store right now.” It was about this time of day [late afternoon]. I said, “Yeah? Let's go over.” So we walked over there, and there they are in the window and you know, and Garcia's going, to Weir, “No, no, no, not like that you goony child!” I thought, oh man.

DG: Jerry was being mean to Bob?

DN: We thought that's awful hard to take. I don't know if I could stand that, man.

DG: Being yelled at by Jerry?

DN: Because we would be in the same position.

IV (Nelson lived in a house on Gilman Street before Waverley Street, around June 65, also near downtown)
NELSON: Here's the thing that goes back to Waverley Street, which followed Gilman Street, okay? Gilman Street was only a month or two long because the guy said it's in its interim stage, but Gilman Street is where Jerry found Phil, because Phil was always going to Las Vegas or he was studying classical music under Berio and stuff like that, or jazz trumpet, and uh the big news was, wow, we found Phil! And he's coming, and he's going to play bass. So I think Jerry asked me to show Phil something about the bass – about a fretted stringed instrument.

DG: Because he had never played one.

DN: “I'd be glad to.” I forget what it was, though. I think it was more than just telling him, but it might have been just that – it was Jerry's not going to be available that day and he wanted me to tell him because he's getting his bass. Because he got a room at Gilman Street. That's why – yeah, yeah.

DG: He moved in and joined the band.

DN: He's got his room, and uh so maybe I gave him the first talk and I said, you know, “Tuning is this, and each fret's a half step, blah, blah, blah.” Phil goes, “Got it. That's all I need to know.” And I showed him bass positions because I had played bass before, yeah and I said, “Here’s the basic thing they use. This finger's for the tonic and here's a boogie pattern, 'boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom'” I think I showed him that or something like that and he goes, “Okay, thanks Dave.” And then every day I’d hear ... the guy practicing on the electric instrument without an amp, you know.

DG: It's the clatter of the string on the frets.

DN: All day, every day.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

San Jose Civic Auditorium, 135 W. San Carlos Street, San Jose, CA: 1965-72

The San Jose Civic Auditorium, at 135 W. San Carlos Street, as it appeared in July 2011
The San Jose Civic Auditorium, at 135 W. San Carlos Street in the center of downtown San Jose, was not in and of itself a critically important venue in the history of the Grateful Dead. It was an important Bay Area venue, however, and seeing how the history of the band intersected with the venue gives an interesting perspective on the evolving status of the band. This post is a piece of site prosopography, focusing on snapshots of the different times that the San Jose Civic has played a role in the history of the Grateful Dead.

The San Jose Civic Auditorium
The San Jose Civic Auditorium was a Spanish Mission style structure built in 1934. It had a capacity of about 3000, and as such it was the biggest indoor venue in the South Bay for many years, throughout the 1960s and into the 70s. The Civic is located at West San Carlos Street and Market Street. Market Street is where San Jose street numbers shift from 'West' to 'East,' thus confounding decades of visitors. Numerous important civic buildings have always been located nearby; current neighbors include the Tech Museum and the McEnery Convention Center.

San Jose has always been a relatively large city in Northern California, but for many decades it paled in comparison to San Francisco, 60 miles to the North. San Jose was mainly a farm town, and although it was the major city in Santa Clara County, the pride of place in the county was always held by Palo Alto, home of Stanford University, just 18 miles nearer to San Francisco. Palo Alto and the other suburbs looked North to San Francisco, while San Jose seemed to be just a friendly, bland country cousin. From the 1950s onward, the orchards and farms in San Jose were slowly converted to suburbs, factories and offices, and San Jose grew in population and economic status, but no one really noticed until the late 1970s and the rise of Silicon Valley. There was a little bit of a funky bohemian folk scene around San Jose State College, and Jerry Garcia and others played a little coffee shop near there called The Off Stage, but all the cool people went to Palo Alto, if not San Francisco. 

December 4, 1965
On Saturday, December 4, 1965, the Rolling Stones were headlining the San Jose Civic Auditorium. At the time, the Rolling Stones' popularity was only eclipsed by The Beatles. While the Beatles were already too big to even play the San Jose Civic, no other groups were sized out of San Jose. Perhaps the Dave Clark Five was as big as the Stones, but no one save the Beatles were bigger. The Stones had numerous catchy hits on the radio, but they had a rocking dark side, too, and by AM standards, an edge that set them apart from the family friendly Beatles. To American radio listeners, the Stones were definitely celebrating black music, white guys playing music from the wrong side of the town, and the fact that they were successful suggested that other aspiring white rock musicians could do the same.

In November of 1965, The Merry Pranksters had gotten the idea that their Acid Tests should be open to the public, instead of just their friends. The problem was finding the right sort of adventurous people, willing to stay up all night and listen to weird music while ascending to a higher plane. This was all perfectly legal, of course, but there was no good reason to invite the police, so a normally advertised event was out of the question. The Pranksters' image of themselves encouraged them to be cryptical rather than direct. The Prankster logic was as follows: cool people liked the Rolling Stones, so the cool people not already known to the Pranksters would be found at the Rolling Stones concert at San Jose Civic.

The Rolling Stones concert at the San Jose Civic was the next-to-last show of the band's 3rd American tour, which had begun in October. On Friday, December 3 the Stones had played two shows at the Sacramento Civic Auditorium, and on Sunday (December 5) they would end their tour with a show at the relatively giant Sports Arena in Los Angeles. For Saturday night, however, the Stones were playing two shows at the San Jose Civic. I don't know what songs they played; shows weren't reviewed in those days, and the idea of someone taping the show was unfathomable. There were certainly a bunch of opening acts, although again I don't know who. Probably a few lucky local garage bands were on the bill, because they would work cheap. The Stones almost certainly played no longer than a half-an-hour for both the early and late shows. Their equipment would have been minimal by modern standards, and to modern ears the show would have sounded tinny and weak. No matter--the Stones were the coolest of the cool.

After the late show, which probably ended well before midnight, exiting fans found some scruffy looking people handing out flyers that said "Can You Pass The Acid Test?" The Acid Test was held at a private house, a rambling old Edwardian near downtown. The flyers included the address of the house, but no explanation of what was actually being promoted. Whether people took the flyer from a scruffy stranger, or saw it tacked up on a tree, only a few of them took up the offer. Nonetheless, those that found their way to the house found themselves flying on a plane they didn't even know they had boarded.

June 21, 1968
For most of the latter 60s, the hip venue in Santa Clara County was the Continental Ballroom, at 1600 Martin Street in Santa Clara. Although the Continental was used by different promoters, and had a complex yet vague history, it was definitely the psychedelic destination of choice in the South Bay. San Jose and Santa Clara County actually had a thriving 60s rock scene, featuring great groups like the Chocolate Watch Band, but most of them never broke out nationally like the San Francisco bands. Just about all of the San Francisco bands played the Continental on various occasions, which was a 1000-1500 capacity room similar in size to the Fillmore (South Bay 80s New Wavers may recall the Continental in its incarnation as One Step Beyond). The Grateful Dead played the Continental Ballroom a number of times, but in the 60s the San Jose Civic was simply too big for them.

On Friday, June 21, 1968, James C. Pagni promoted a concert at the San Jose Civic featuring the Grateful Dead and The Mothers Of Invention. By 60s standards, the Dead and the Mothers had pretty different audiences. Both of them could headline the Fillmore, but neither group yet had the heft for a crowd of 3000 at the Civic. Clearly, the plan was that fans of both groups would come to the concert, and that would be enough to make the concert profitable. It was not to be. Due to lagging ticket sales, the concert was canceled. The Grateful Dead (as well as the Mothers) were already infamous legends, but they were not yet a big concert draw, even less than half an hour from their historic birthplace.

July 1, 1972
By 1972, the Grateful Dead already had three hit albums under their belt, and were a popular concert attraction nationwide. The 60s San Jose rock scene had died out, however, subsumed under San Francisco, and the Continental Ballroom was no longer an active venue. As a result, there were few major rock concerts in San Jose or anywhere in the South Bay. However, Jerry Garcia had started his own informal group with Merl Saunders and John Kahn. Mostly the aggregation played a few nightclubs in San Francisco and Berkeley, but with no viable South Bay nightclubs, they played the occasional concert date in Santa Clara County.

The Garcia/Saunders Santa Clara County debut had been at a 'jazz' concert at Frost Amphitheater in Stanford, on October 3, 1971. This is not as inappropriate as it may sound today. Garcia/Saunders played more instrumentals than vocals in those days, and the vocal numbers were bluesy covers, so they could legitimately be considered a jazz group, an important issue for allowing them to be booked at Stanford at the time. The second big concert for the Garcia/Saunders group was at the San Jose Civic Auditorium on July 1, 1972.

A lot had changed since 1968. Now, a group featuring Jerry Garcia, without any kind of record, and not even sharing the bill with a co-headliner, could appear at the San Jose Civic. We do know of one eyewitness to the show, but I don't know how well the show sold, or who the promoter might have been. I do know that there were few if any rock shows at the Civic during this period, and so this seems to have been a new venture. Our eyewitness does recall a two-set show and Tom Fogerty on rhythm guitar.

Whether by accident or design, the July 1, 1972 show was also the first time that a Jerry Garcia band was used to field test a venue for the Grateful Dead. Since the Grateful Dead would play the venue seven weeks later, the crew must have learned a few lessons from having played a show there. At the very least, Garcia and any crew members must have determined that it was a musically acceptable venue for the band.

A closer view of the entrance to the San Jose Civic Auditorium (July 2011)
August 20, 1972
On Sunday, August 20, 1972, the Grateful Dead finally headlined at the San Jose Civic Auditorium. Less than seven years earlier, they had been part of a guerrilla group of subversives passing out flyers after a concert there; now they were the attraction itself. Although San Jose's population ensured that they bought a fair share of tickets to Bay Area concerts, major attractions rarely played the South Bay in the early 70s. Yet here were the Dead, headlining at the San Jose Civic, the city''s largest indoor venue.

Although the show must have been booked well in advance, the advertising strategy was not typical. The Grateful Dead's big San Francisco booking for the Summer of 1972 was at the Berkeley Community Theater. The Dead were booked for four shows in August, Monday thru Friday (excepting Wednesday), from August 21 through August 25. I dimly recall that three shows were advertised first, and the Monday show was advertised last, but I am no longer certain. In any case, I distinctly recall that the Berkeley shows were advertised in the Chronicle and sold out (or close to it) before the San Jose show was announced.

I don't recall any newspaper advertisements for the San Jose Civic show, although it's possible. I do recall that the show was heavily advertised on AM radio, a sign that the Dead had crossed over somewhat. At the time, relatively few people had FM radios in their car, so even the hippest listeners (amongst whom 14 year old me desperately wanted to be) often listened to KFRC, KYA or KLIV because there were no other choices. I clearly recall with amazement hearing ads for the San Jose Civic Grateful Dead show in my parents' car, probably on the San Jose station, KLIV (1590). I am pretty certain that the show was advertised as a "Festival Seating" show, but I can no longer be certain (for reserved seat shows, the San Jose Civic just used folding chairs, so there was no configuration problem).

Up until 1972, I don't believe the Grateful Dead had played more than two shows in a row at Winterland, which would have theoretically equaled 10,800 tickets (although probably more in practice). Four shows in Berkeley would have equaled 14,000 tickets, and Bill Graham Presents may not have been certain of the Dead's drawing power yet. The Berkeley shows sold out very quickly, however, and Graham and the Dead never looked back when it came to booking multiple shows for the Dead in the Bay Area.

However, I don't know how the San Jose Grateful Dead show did financially. We have a fun tape, so we know the band played well. As it happened, the band's little odyssey with the San Jose Civic ended in August of 1972. The city of San Jose and Santa Clara County in general became more and more important to the Bay Area concert market, but the San Jose Civic itself became too small and too old, and the Grateful Dead never played there again.

Aftermath: South Bay
The South Bay became a more important rock market as the concert industry expanded and Santa Clara County became more affluent. First, Stanford University grudgingly started to allow rock concerts, either at the Maples Pavilion basketball arena or at Frost Amphitheater (capacity 6900). The Dead played a famous show at Maples on February 9, 1973, and ultimately played a decade of memorable shows at Frost from 1982-89. The Keystone Palo Alto had opened in 1977 (taking over a place called Sophie's), so the Jerry Garcia Band and other major club attractions had a place to play. Finally, when the Grateful Dead had simply sized out of any Stanford venues, Bill Graham Presents opened the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, between San Jose and Palo Alto. Shoreline became the Grateful Dead's final home court.

Aftermath: San Jose
The San Jose Civic Auditorium was a charming but aging venue. In 1975, the city opened the San Jose Center For Performing Arts just around the corner. The modern, seated arena was the home for the San Jose Symphony and also hosted may rock concerts. The Grateful Dead nor any of its spinoffs ever played there, as the 3000 seat venue was already too small. The San Jose Civic was still used, but mostly for concerts that had schedule conflicts with SJCPA or were simply deemed too 'rowdy' for the tony Perfoming Arts Center. Events at the Civic were intermittent. I personally saw the great Welsh rock group Man at the Civic in August, 1976, opening for Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow (who gave the worst rock performance I have ever seen) and in the mid-80s, I also saw Ted Nugent there (who may have given the second worst rock performance).

The Grateful Dead's last performance in San Jose proper was at Spartan Stadium on April 22, 1979. This was Brent Mydland's debut with the Dead, and a subject worthy of a post of its own. Spartan Stadium is the relatively modest football facility for San Jose State, a few miles from the Civic. Its football capacity at the time was around 18,000. I am on record elsewhere as saying that the Dead played terribly that day, but that too is another topic.

The San Jose Civic Auditorium had been the city and county's premier venue since its construction in 1934 until the early 70s. The Grateful Dead, born in the same county, had gone from supplicants hanging around outside to the headline act. When Santa Clara County moved past the San Jose Civic Auditorium, the Dead were moving right along with it, and the building is an afterthought in their history. Nonetheless, a recent visit confirms that the newly refurbished San Jose Civic Auditorium is a glorious building from times gone by, a charming WPA Palace amidst a high tech wonderland.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Jerry Garcia Band Opening Acts, Greek Theater, UC Berkeley: 1987-1990

Jerry Garcia and Bonnie Raitt onstage at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, on August 30, 1987 (photo from The Jerry Site)
From 1971 to early 1987, the Jerry Garcia's principal performing venue was at a club in Freddie Herrera's Keystone family. Jerry Garcia performed over 400 times at the Keystone Korner in San Francisco, the Keystone Berkeley, Keystone Palo Alto and The Stone in San Francisco. Although Bill Graham Presents was the Grateful Dead's only promoter in the Bay Area, the Jerry Garcia Band had a long-standing relationship with the Keystone clubs, and Garcia was loyal above all else. However, by 1987, the Keystone clubs were closing and the Jerry Garcia Band had become bigger than ever. From mid-1987 onwards, Bill Graham Presents became the promoter for Jerry Garcia Band shows in the Bay Area.

Most Jerry Garcia Band shows for BGP were at The Warfield, where the casual environment and open bar could make the refurbished theater seem like a larger, cleaner version of the Keystones. However, Graham had the promotional heft to present the Garcia Band in regular concert settings as well. From 1987 through 1990, BGP presented the Jerry Garcia Band in a number of outdoor summer concerts in the Bay Area and Northern California. While the shows were complete sellouts, as far as I know, compared to the high profile events of Grateful Dead concert runs in the same venues, the Garcia Band summer shows seemed like a relaxed reminder of how the Grateful Dead used to be--just fun in the sun and no one onstage or off looking at the clock.

In the 1980s, the best Grateful Dead shows to see were the runs of shows at UC Berkeley's Greek Theater and Frost Amphitheater at Stanford. Since I lived in the East Bay then, that was particularly true for me. The Grateful Dead outgrew both venues, and the respective Universities became increasingly unhappy with the giant crowds that congregated outside the venues. However, when the Jerry Garcia Band played the Greek Theater, it was less of a destination and more of an afternoon, and way more fun for tired old me. One unique aspect of the Greek Theater shows featuring the Jerry Garcia Band from 1987 through 1990 was that they all featured opening acts, all approved if not hand-picked by Garcia himself.

East Coast shows in the late 1970s and early 1980s had featured opening acts. However, other than the Spring 1978 tour with Robert Hunter and Comfort on board, the openers were mostly acoustic solo acts. While some of those acts were good--I believe Peter Rowan and Rick Danko opened on occasion--they were just there to keep early arrivers entertained and sell some extra popcorn. The Greek Theater acts were different. These were performers you actually wanted to see, and Jerry wanted to see them also. We didn't imagine this--on three occasions, the opening performer actually came onstage to play with the Jerry Garcia Band, itself an all but unprecedented event before or since.

This post will consider the history and context of the opening acts at the Greek Theater shows from 1987 through 1990. While Garcia played some similar shows during this period, at Eel River and Squaw Valley, they did not include opening acts, so I have left them aside from this discussion. As a coda, I comment on the curious Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band show at Frost Amphitheater in 1988.

August 30, 1987: Greek Theater, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA: Jerry Garcia Band/Bonnie Raitt
The Keystone Berkeley had closed in 1984, and the Keystone Palo Alto in 1986. The Stone in San Francisco would remain open for a few more years under Herrera ownership, but Garcia had simply outgrown the venue, and his last show there was May 31, 1987. The migration by Garcia to the BGP empire can now be seen as significant, but at the time it just seemed practical. On Halloween 1986, the Jerry Garcia Band and Kingfish with Bob Weir had played the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, the first JGB concert in Keystone territory (San Francisco, Alameda County or Palo Alto) in a while. Now, of course, we can see it as the shape of things to come.

The Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band had played a benefit at the Fillmore on March 18, 1987. According to legend, this led to the conversation between Graham and Garcia where Jerry told Bill "take us to Broadway", and The Jerry Garcia Band ended up playing two weeks at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater in October 1987. The Garcia Band debuted at The Warfield in November of that year, and from then on all Bay Area Garcia shows were BGP events. In August of 1987, the Jerry Garcia Band headlined the Greek Theater at UC Berkeley. Now, we can see it as part of a pattern of Bill Graham taking over the promotion of Garcia Band California shows. At the time, however, it just seemed like a welcome and cool event, and it certainly was that.

The Grateful Dead had been playing a three day weekend run at the Greek Theater since 1981, and the shows were one of the highlights of the Grateful Dead year. The Greek Theater and Frost Amphitheater are the two best venues in the Bay Area of any appreciable size, and by the late 1980s people would come from all over the country and the world for the Greek shows. Tickets were impossible, and the crowds outside the Greek were so large, that they would broadcast the shows on the local radio (KPFA-fm) in order to discourage people from coming to the venue. The Dead had played June 19-21, 1987 to the usual rapturous reception, but by that time I had given up on the whole ruckus and passed on going. Like many people, when I found out that there would be a single Garcia Band show, without all the out-of-towners, it seemed like an early Christmas gift.

Intriguingly, the 1987 Greek Theater show was going to be opened by Bonnie Raitt. I had many of her albums and had always wanted to see her, and here she was opening a show I was going to see anyway. It's interesting to consider the implications of Bonnie Raitt sharing the bill with Jerry Garcia. In Summer 1987, the 7500-capacity Greek Theater was a big step up for Garcia in the Bay Area. In the Bay Area, the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia had played so regularly, that there was no excitement associated with a JGB concert. I don't think that Bonnie Raitt's presence was necessarily selling more tickets to a Garcia show, per se, but her presence made a lot of people think "I should go to this Garcia show, even if I just saw the Dead or Jerry earlier this year." It worked, as the show was sold out as far as I know, and we were blessed with beautiful Sunday afternoon weather as well.

By 1987, Bonnie Raitt was in a down cycle in her career. She had been dropped by Warner Brothers Records a few years earlier, for whom she had been recording since 1971. Bonnie had sold some albums, had a following and got played on FM radio, but she hadn't crossed over into the promised land like Stevie Nicks, so Warners had simply dropped her. Without label support, Bonnie was making her money by touring, but she was only traveling with her bass player Johnnie Schell instead of with an entire band. Although one rarely associates Bonnie Raitt with the Grateful Dead, here she was in a comparable economic position to where the Dead had been on many occasions, with just touring revenues keeping them going.

Whatever her professional travails, Bonnie was absolutely terrific onstage at the Greek. Befitting her status, she played a full set of over an hour. Although she was just playing with a bass player (Schell), Bonnie's singing and smoking electric slide guitar filled up the pseudo-classical bowl very well. The crowd was extremely enthusiastic as Bonnie played many of her best known songs and a variety of other tunes. Of course, she was an experienced performer. At one point, Bonnie pointed at her yellow and purple clothes, striking in counterpoint to her truly spectacular red hair, and engagingly asked "hey, do you like my outfit?" The crowd roared its approval, and she drily commented "I heard you guys liked looking at different colors." We all ate it up.

The Jerry Garcia Band eventually came on and played a relaxed but excellent first set. After the requisite break, Jerry and the band returned with Bonnie, still resplendent in yellow and purple. There was a fair amount of knowledge circulating about the Garcia Band by this time, and the fact was that guests with the JGB were quite rare. The few guest appearances with the JGB that were known generally involved well-connected compadres like Bob Weir or Lee Oskar. The JGB wasn't designed as a jamming vehicle like the Garcia/Saunders band. Yet here was Garcia's opening act, not socially connected to Garcia at all, plugging in onstage. The Greek Theater show had now gone from a fun show to an actual event.

Jerry and Bonnie opened with a powerful version of Jimmy McCracklin's "Think" ("What would we do later on/Just in case we both were wrong"). It was a cool, obscure song, relatively, perfect for Bonnie but absolutely hip. Bonnie sang along on the choruses and played some nice slide counterpoint to Jerry's lead. This wasn't token. Even if they hadn't rehearsed--I'd be stunned if they actually had--they had at least discussed what to play and come up with something cool. Bonnie and Jerry followed with a version of Bob Dylan's "Knocking On Heaven's Door," certainly a classic, but not a song whose arrangement I liked, since even I found the tempo just too slow. Still, it was a good choice for Bonnie and Jerry to sing and trade licks, and both of them were clearly enjoying themselves. Bonnie left the stage after that, but it really made the concert special, setting it apart from all those nights at the Keystone Berkeley.

July 10, 1988: Greek Theater, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA: Jerry Garcia Band/Bob Weir/Brent Mydland
The Jerry Garcia Band returned to the Greek Theatre the next year. This year the opening acts would be solo performances by Bob Weir and Brent Mydland. This wasn't totally unprecedented, as Bob and Brent had played solo sets prior to a Garcia and Kahn set at a benefit in Marin earlier in the year (April 26 '88). I was aware that Bob Weir had at in with the Garcia Band a number of times--probably, in retrospect, more than any other musician--so it seemed likely that he would do so at the Greek. To me, it was more interesting to see whether Brent would join the JGB on keyboards for any songs.

On a personal level, I was happy to be seeing Bob and Brent solo. The truth was, it was unlikely I would ever make the effort to see either of them perform solo, even in a smaller place. Since I was looking forward to seeing the Garcia Band at the Greek anyway, however, it was a chance to check out the other two on their own. In retrospect, Brent's performance was the most interesting, since solo performances by him were so rare. He performed 8 songs on the electric piano. Per my notes, they were
Far From Me
I Will Take You Home
Maybe You Know
Gentlemen, Start Your Engines
(song unknown to me)
Devil With The Blue Dress>
 Good Golly Miss Molly
Brent was talented, and the songs were fine ("Musician" was from the Silver album). However, what struck me was how, despite his skills, Brent just wasn't a solo performer. Brent was self-effacing on stage, and he needed a band or at least a partner. I enjoyed his set, but he was no Bruce Hornsby.

After Brent's half-hour set ended, Bob Weir walked on stage with his acoustic guitar. I can't recall if Brent had left the stage, or if Weir simply walked on. In any case, Brent sang "Hey Jude," accompanied by Weir. It was a nice coda to Brent's set. Afterwards, Brent walked off to restrained but sincere applause. Weir continued his set, and played eight more songs. Weir had distinctly more stage presence than Brent, something that was very noticeable for a solo performer in the fairly large Greek, At the end of Weir's set, Brent returned to harmonize on The Beatles "Blackbird." All told, Weir and Brent's set had taken up about an hour.

The Jerry Garcia Band came on later and played two fine, relaxed sets, another fine memory of a great show that I saw at the Greek Theater. Much to my surprise, however, Weir never came onstage to join Garcia, much less Brent. For all I know, Weir and Brent were home watching television by the time Garcia's set ended.

Jimmy Cliff singing 'The Harder They Come"  onstage with the Jerry Garcia Band at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley on August 26, 1989 (photo from The Jerry Site)
August 26, 1989: Greek Theater, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA: Jerry Garcia Band/Jimmy Cliff And The Oneness Band
Come the next year at the Greek, the open question for me was which year had been the anomaly. Garcia had invited Bonnie Raitt on stage, but Bob Weir hadn't made an appearance the next year. What would happen with Jimmy Cliff opening for him?

Jimmy Cliff And The Oneness Band played a pretty good and enthusiastically well received, opening set. The tip-off for me, however, and anyone else who was paying attention, was that amidst all the numerous hits that Cliff performed, he didn't play "The Harder They Come." He did a bunch of others: "You Can Get It If You Really Want," "Rivers Of Babylon," "Many Rivers To Cross," "Wonderful World, Beautiful People" and "Johnny Too Bad" were the ones I recognized in my notes. But when Cliff didn't do his best known song, we knew what was coming.

Indeed, after five songs in the first set, Cliff came out to huge applause. The Garcia Band launched into "Harder They Come" and Cliff stepped up and sang the hell out of it. Given how often Garcia had performed that song, I was very conscious, as many others must have been, of what an historic moment this was going to be. My general understanding was that Cliff and Garcia had met out on the road various times, but had never had a chance to perform together.

However, historic as Jimmy Cliff singing "The Harder They Come" with the Jerry Garcia Band may have been, I'm pretty sure Garcia and Cliff didn't rehearse it. Cliff flowed easily with the Garcia Band, as the band swirled around his vocals. Garcia started to build his solo, ably supported by Melvin Seals, John Kahn and David Kemper. As they got to the first pass through the chorus, Garcia was starting to find his groove, and I for one was ready for Jerry to climb the mountain and play a great solo in honor of the time that Jimmy Cliff sang his own song with him.

Unfortunately, no one seems to have mentioned to Jimmy Cliff that Garcia was going to solo through the chorus. So when the chorus came around, pro that he is, Cliff stepped up to the mike and did the "oh yeah, alright" part that sets up the next chorus. I swear I saw a frustrated flinch of Jerry's shoulders, but maybe I was projecting. Still, there was no question that Garcia was planning to solo through two choruses, and Cliff was either never told or missed a signal. Either way, it turned what could have been a truly classic moment into a merely historic one. Oh well--I was still glad I saw it. After the song, Cliff left the stage and Garcia made a rare comment: "I've always wanted to do that," a sign that it meant a lot to him as well.

August 5, 1990: Greek Theater, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA: Jerry Garcia Band/Bela Fleck and The Flecktones
The Grateful Dead's last performances at the Greek Theater had been in 1989. The band had simply become too large for the 7500-capacity venue. The parking situation was impossible on the best day there, and when the Grateful Dead played it was well beyond that. However, BGP managed to have one more Garcia show at the Greek, before he too sized out of the place.

When 1990's show rolled around, I just assumed that the opening act was picked for or by Jerry in order to provide an interesting guest star. Bela Fleck was a leading modern banjo player, comparable in some ways to David Grisman as a mandolinist. Fleck could play banjo in all the traditional styles, and he had been in the Grisman Quintet as well. He specialized in putting the banjo in new and imaginative settings. Fleck was one of those players that I had heard about, but had hardly heard.

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones were a four-piece band. Besides Fleck on banjo, the band featured Howard Levy on electric piano and harmonica, Victor Wooten on bass and "Futureman" (so he was called) on percussion. Futureman had a body suit with percussion synthesizers somehow embedded in it. He played hand drums on himself, literally, and it sounded alternately like traps and various other percussion instruments. All of the musicians seemed to be the type of well-trained pros who could play in any key or time signature.

Unfortunately, while the Flecktones were conceived as a unique amalgamation of influences, they were boring. There was nothing wrong with the all-instrumental music they were playing, which sounded like jazz played on very non-standard instruments, but they just weren't interesting. They sounded like one of those music student bands that was all cleverness and nothing listenable. Every member of the group, particularly Fleck, could really play, but I found myself staring out at the bay rather than listening. Fleck's weakness wasn't his banjo playing; he was great, playing in a unique style that separated him from almost any banjo player who had preceded him. His weakness was as a bandleader. The group didn't have good tunes, jazz or not, and they couldn't keep my interest. They were well received, more or less, but it seemed more pleasant than enthusiastic.

Fleck's guest turn with the Garcia Band was really revealing. It is often forgotten that Garcia was a great bandleader. Even if he rarely articulated his musical vision, even to his own band members, Garcia had a clear concept of what he was trying to accomplish on stage. Once Garcia was the bandleader, then Fleck's talents were in play. Garcia invited Fleck out for "The Harder They Come," which struck me as possibly the worst choice for an amplified banjo solo. Was I wrong--I guess that's why it was Jerry's band.

Faced with the strange challenge of playing banjo on an uptempo reggae song, Fleck had to use all his skills, and he had a lot of them. While Melvin Seals organ swirled along and Jerry comped the rhythm, Fleck emphasized the rhythmic power of the banjo, playing a weird off-beat counterpoint to the usual rolling rhythm that Kemper and Kahn were laying down. I'd say it was the best electric banjo solo on an uptempo reggae song ever, but it was also probably the only one. In any case, it was great. When Jerry was leading the band, Bela was really special, which told me a lot about both of them. There was a lot more to the Jerry Garcia Band than the by now introspective Garcia usually acknowledged. The late 80s Greek Theatre shows were a rare insight into how Garcia saw his own music, and what interested him about performing.

Appendix: Frost Amphitheater
July 9, 1988: Frost Amphitheater, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA: Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band/Hot Tuna
Looking backwards, with the benefit of hindsight, since Bill Graham Presents was booking a Garcia Band show at the Greek Theater each Summer, it would have seemed logical to have a Frost Amphitheater show paired with it, to make a weekend out of it. However, this only happened once, in 1988. The Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band played Frost Amphitheater on a Saturday afternoon (July 9), and the JGB proper played the Greek Theater on Sunday afternoon (July 10). Since "Acoustic Hot Tuna" opened the Frost show, it fits the context of this post. The Frost show was the only other outdoor Summer BGP Garcia Band show that had an outside opening act, so it's worthy of note.

Everybody forgets about the 1988 JGAB Frost show. I certainly forgot about it. At the time, I would only have been able to manage one show in a weekend, so I chose the electric show nearer my house. I had seen the JGAB the year before, and while I enjoyed them, I didn't have a big urgency to see them so soon. Little did we know that it was the last Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band show. The JGAB had stopped performing at the end of 1987, with shows in San Francisco (The Warfield) and Los Angeles (The Wiltern). However, they played one last show at Frost, which has largely been ignored (the Jerry Site lists the show, but doesn't mention that it was the last JGAB show). The JGAB played as the original quartet (Garcia/Nelson/Rothman/Kahn), just as they had begun at the Fillmore 16 months earlier. Kemper was presumably not in town yet, and Kenny Kosek would not have been flown in for a one-off.

Much as I and everybody would have liked to see Garcia play with Jack and Jorma in an acoustic setting, it didn't happen. In fact, I'm fairly certain it never happened, ever. Garcia, Casady and Jorma had played together many times up through about 1970, but always in an electric context, as far as I know. Thus, we'll never know whose arrangement of "I Know You Rider" they would have done. Garcia had shared a booking with Jack and Jorma many times, and as recently as April 26, 1988 in Marin, but they never sat in together. I honestly think the reason for the absence of a sit-in was the lack of novelty. By 1988, Garcia only seemed interested in playing with people with whom he had never had the opportunity, but he had jammed with Hot Tuna many times back in the day, so he probably felt no real imperative. More's the pity.

As to the odd booking of the JGAB at Frost, eight months after the band was seemingly put to bed, I think that had to do with Stanford University. Both Frost and the Greek were very desirable outdoor venues, and very hard to use due to their University affiliations. I know for a fact, for example, that UC Berkeley only allowed rock concerts at the Greek on weekends that were not finals week, Summer School included. Parking was crowded up there on a normal day, and rock concerts, particularly Grateful Dead concerts, magnified the difficulty enormously. However, despite the restrictions, UC Berkeley was ultimately a state institution, and within certain parameters had a formal obligation to allow its facilities to be used, so BGP could wedge the shows into the venue. The Dead only left the venue when not only had complaints magnified 100-fold, but the return for playing Shoreline Amphitheater was infinitely higher, so it was easier to just depart for Mountain View.

Stanford University was a private school, however, and a wealthy one at that. Although Stanford liked to claim that concerts at Frost, particularly Dead concerts, were "a hassle," that is an exaggeration. Nobody lived anywhere near Frost Amphitheater, and there was plenty of parking, in complete contrast to the Greek. Stanford had consistently resisted concerts at Frost Amphitheater since the advent of rock music, and only allowed them grudgingly. By 1988, Stanford was very unhappy with the annual Grateful Dead weekend. I have a suspicion that Graham managed to  persuade Stanford to agree to a Garcia concert in 1988, but Stanford got cold feet. I think an acoustic Garcia show was a compromise, but all parties seemed to have backed away from it by the next year. In any case, the Dead's run of Frost shows ended in 1989 as well, so there was no point in a futile struggle. Stanford has generally minimized rock concerts at Frost ever since.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

February 4, 1970: Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead/Santana/Kimberly (A Night At The Family Dog)

The dvd A Night At The Family Dog, recorded February 4, 1970
The Grateful Dead's performance at Chet Helms' Family Dog on The Great Highway on February 4, 1970 is fairly well known today. An hour long video of concert highlights, originally broadcast on Public Television, has since been re-released on DVD as A Night At The Family Dog. In 2004, the Grateful Dead released the recording of their entire set from that night. Thus both the audio and some video are available from the show, a rare and potent combination. However, while the music is well-covered, and video is available, very little has been recalled about the circumstances of the actual event itself. Even the Dead's cd release is scarce on details. Having uncovered a fairly detailed review of the event, this post will consider the February 4, 1970 concert as an event rather than a recording.
Ralph Gleason's San Francisco Chronicle column from February 6, 1970
The Family Dog show on February 4, 1970, was a staged event for Public Television with an invited audience. The music was no less enjoyable for that, but the event itself was not a real concert, even though the excellent music was real and live. Public Television wanted to have a special show on San Francisco bands in their home setting, and chose to rent the Family Dog to put on the show. Ralph J. Gleason co-produced the special, and he reports from both the sound truck and the concert itself, although he somewhat disingenuously never indicates his organizer's role. The show was filmed on February 4, 1970 and broadcast nationwide in April of that year, possibly on April 27. With only three commercial networks and the occasional independent station, Public Television shows were widely watched in a way that would be unfathomable today. I assure you that the PBS Night At The Family Dog special was watched by young people nationwide in large numbers, and was probably influential in suggesting that events like this went on in San Francisco all the time. Certainly, if you were in cold Des Moines or windy El Paso and saw Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead and Santana sharing the stage, everybody dancing and a big jam afterwards, it would make you believe that San Francisco was the promised land indeed.

Of course, the San Francisco scene that PBS was celebrating had already gone national some years earlier. The Family Dog, with a capacity of about 1500, was far from downtown (at 660 Great Highway), and all three major bands had largely outgrown the place. After Chet Helms had had to close the Avalon at the end of 1968, he had re-opened on the Great Highway, but it was never a successful venture. The Grateful Dead headlined there regularly, but it was a less lucrative gig for them than Fillmore West. The Airplane played there too, but they were so big that their shows there were not even advertised. Santana, already huge stars by 1970, would never play the Family Dog except for this one special. In 1970, when three big local bands played together, they would play the much larger Winterland (capacity 5400). The Family Dog was more photogenic, however, and so the hall was rented on a Wednesday night for the TV special. Ralph Gleason of the Chronicle attended, and described the event in part of his Friday column, which I will reproduce here (since you can hardly read the scan, I will transcribe it all).
"Do you have a set schedule for what's going to happen?" the technician asked Bob Zagone of KQED. "We don't have a set schedule for anything, Zagone said. 'We have a loose schedule."

They were in the KQED mobile video tape recording truck outside the Family Dog. Several other trucks and a generator, roaring away like a power drill, were set up in the parking lot. Zagone and the KQED crew were getting ready to videotape a Jefferson Airplane party at the Family Dog for National Educational Television.

There's a young band called 'Kimberly' going on stage starting in a few minutes," Zagone said. "The it will be Santana. After that I don't know what's going to happen."
The Family Dog special was scheduled on a Wednesday night, because the Dog would otherwise be dark, and the bands would not likely be working. Although I assume the bands got union scale and some expenses, it's unlikely they were paid for this show. It would have been done for publicity, but it would have been well worth it. The band Kimberly was associated with Santana's management, but they were not part of the TV special. I assume Kimberly were just there to showcase themselves to the heavyweight invited crowd.

The Grateful Dead had just come back from a grueling tour. They would open at the Fillmore West the next night (Thursday February 5) and then take off for New York and the Fillmore East (starting Wednesday February 11). Nonetheless, the band found time to saddle up and play for this show, despite having been busted down in Bourbon Street, and playing a gig in St. Louis right after that (as a footnote, the Family  Dog show was Sam Cutler's official debut as Grateful Dead tour manager). Lew Welch's comment suggests that there were considerably fewer people than at a normal sold-out night at the Dog, another indicator of an invited crowd. The show itself was not publicized in any way that I am aware of, as it was not a public event in that sense.
Gleason, Chronicle, Feb 6 '70 part 2
 The cables were strung all along the sidewalk and into the hall and the huge TV cameras on dollies were rolling back and forth through the place in the wild assembly of San Francisco hip society.

On stage the musicians were plugging in their guitars and tuning. In a little while Kimberly, a neat, melodic band, began. Light men experimented with different combinations. Rock critics wandered through the hall. "It has the right feeling tonight," Mike Goodwin of Rolling Stone said. And poet Lew Welch pointed out that it was one of the few times in recent memories that you could actually get close to a band and not be jammed by the press of a crowd.

After Kimberly, Santana took over and the rhythms of the drums and the bass melded with the guitar and conga drum and rose to an incredible [something]. It ended with Santana almost leaning over backwards, hitting the guitar strings and bassist David Brown, his eyes squeezed shut, flailing away at the guitar. The crowd screamed. Out in the truck, Bob Zagone complained "we're not getting that audience noise" and Bob Matthews, who was doing the sound, whipped out a mike and set it up taping the audience.
The presence of Bob Matthews indicates that Alembic Engineering was hired to do the recording, an excellent choice. Matthews name does not appear on the Download Series cd, nor does anyone else's, I suspect because no one recalled that he was the engineer. I'm no taper, but does Matthews' use of an audience mic make the Family Dog tape an early 'Matrix Tape'?
Gleason, Chronicle, Feb 6 '70 part 3
"We'll go dark as they start their set and bring the light up gradually," Zagone said and the Grateful Dead began. In the truck the multiple images on the little screens made a fascinating montage. Jerry Garcia's face silhouetted but still clear, approached the mike on the screen and he began to sing. The little screens that showed the pictures [of] the various cameras were registering, flicked from one to another. "Gimme a two shot," Zagone said, "Let's see both those guitars."

Out in the crowd, which was dancing or sitting on the floor and around the sides of the stage, John Carpenter of the L.A. Free Press said "when is it going to be aired?" and hoped a definite date could be set. The man from N.E.T said probably in April. "It's a good night," Carpenter said. "I had forgotten what San Francisco was really like. I've seen people I haven't seen in years."

On stage, the band was into those rhythmic phrases that make the Dead such groovy dance music and several girls were dancing behind the band and on one side. Still photographers leaped up from the audience and shot pictures like the paparazzi in "Z."
The structure of the evening seemed to have been that Kimberly played a brief set, and then the three featured acts played single sets. Since the existing Dead tape is an hour, that must be their whole show, and I assume that Santana and the Airplane played sets of equal length. For an event like this, there would have been no concept of encores, regardless of how well a band went over. I would not be surprised if the house lighting had been a little different as well, in order to benefit the cameras, although I don't know how exactly. The fact that Bob Matthews was on the board does suggest that the sound system was first rate, however, even if the TV could hardly have broadcast such a wide dynamic range.
Gleason, Chronicle, Feb 6 '70 part 4
Then the Airplane came on and Grace smiled and Marty sang "Do you want to know a secret, just between you and me," and the lights flickered off the sweat on his forehead as he sang and Spencer drove into the drums with a fierce concentration and Jorma sang "Good Shepherd" and the crowd gyrated and the cameras rolled back and forth.

It was a great evening. San Francisco within a week had two TV specials shot here. Both on rock. There will be more and if they end up on the screen as good as they are in person, the rest of the country will see something unique.
Gleason's final comment was correct, but not perhaps in the way that he thought. The special was broadcast on PBS stations in late April, and it must have been widely seen. Teenagers in Birmingham, Buffalo or Butte who had only discovered Santana, Volunteers or Live/Dead would have been thrilled to imagine a city where all those bands got together at night to play on the same stage in a tiny, elegant concert hall. As if that weren't enough, as we know from the video, the evening ended with a jam. We only have a brief segment, featuring Jerry, Jorma, Jack, the Santana rhythm section and Gary Duncan of Quicksilver. That, too, must have added to the legend of San Francisco: all the bands play together, and then get together on stage and jam their eyeballs out, far into the night.

Fun as the night must have been for the bands and the crowd, it was really a time capsule for an era that had passed. The bands were all on tour most of the time by then, and rarely played together. The Family Dog had struggled for its whole brief existence, and it was about to start spiraling down. Santana had never actually played the venue, save for the TV special. Jefferson Airplane had played there a number of times, as recently as the previous weekend (January 30-31). However, the Airplane had used the shows as an opportunity to break in their new drummer (Joey Covington), and the Family Dog show was the last one for Spencer Dryden, marking the end of the 'classic' Airplane that everyone associated with the sixties (Grace/Marty/Paul/Jack/Jorma/Spencer).

The Grateful Dead would have one more weekend at the Family Dog at the end of February (Feb 27-March 1), and one "Acoustic Dead" weekend billed as Mickey And The Hartbeats (April 17-19), but they too rapidly graduated from the Family Dog as well. Just as television had found the San Francisco music scene worthy of appropriate documentation, its stars had graduated to a higher plane, and the days of hanging out and jamming after everybody had played their sets went with them. Still, its nice that for a final night in February 1970, some of the Fillmore regulars got together and shared the stage like it was 1967 again, and the rest of the county got to see it, if only in its final form.

Appendix: Setlist and Release Information
Grateful Dead
Family Dog At The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA
February 4, 1970
  • Hard To Handle
  • Black Peter 
  • Me and My Uncle 
  • China Cat Sunflower > 
  • I Know You Rider 
  • St. Stephen > 
  • Not Fade Away > 
  • St. Stephen > 
  • In The Midnight Hour 
  • plus: jam with Jerry Garcia, Jorma Kaukonen, Gary Duncan, Jack Casady, Mike Shrieve, others
A Night At The Family Dog TV show
Broadcast on Public Television stations on or about April 27, 1970
Produced by Ralph J. Gleason and Bob Zagone for National Educational Television (NET)

A Night At The Family Dog audio
Grateful Dead Download Series
Grateful Dead Records: released 2005
>>complete Grateful Dead set from 2/4/70, plus three bonus tracks from 10/5/70

A Night At The Family Dog DVD
with Grateful Dead/Jefferson Airplane/Santana
Eagle Vision: released 2007
  • Incident At Neshabur - Santana
  • Soul Sacrifice - Santana
  • Hard To Handle - Grateful Dead
  • China Cat Sunflower - Grateful Dead
  • I Know You Rider - Grateful Dead
  • The Ballad of You And Me And Pooneil - Jefferson Airplane
  • Eskimo Blue Day - Jefferson Airplane
  • Super jam featuring members of Santana, Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane