Thursday, March 1, 2012

December 23, 1970: Winterland: Grateful Dead/Hot Tuna ("Acoustic Dead" Benefit)

A listing from John L. Wasserman's SF Chronicle column on Monday, December 21, 1970, mentioning the upcoming concert at Winterland on December 23, featuring the "Acoustic Dead" in a benefit for "the Montessori School & The Bear"
On December 31, 1970, the Grateful Dead headlined a New Year's Eve concert at Winterland for Bill Graham Presents. Bill Graham's New Year's Eve concerts were already a legendary tradition in San Francisco, and from 1970 onwards, that tradition was inextricably associated with the Grateful Dead. Why, then, with a high profile show at Winterland coming up, did the Grateful Dead play a benefit at the very same venue just 8 days before? Granted, Owsley "The Bear" Stanley had serious legal problems, and a benefit concert was probably the only way that the Dead could raise cash for him, but the benefit seems to be undermining the paying gig that was to follow it. In fact, a closer look at the concert reveals an even more peculiar story: in December, 1970, Winterland was not under Bill Graham's control, and by putting on the benefit the Dead were deliberately poking Graham in the eye. This post will look at some of the peculiar circumstances surrounding the December 23, 1970 benefit concert at Winterland, and illuminate some of the complexities of the Grateful Dead's intricate relationship with Bill Graham Presents.

Upcoming BGP shows from the December 20, 1970 Chronicle
The Fillmore West and Winterland, 1969-70
By 1969, the Fillmore West was famous throughout the world as the hippest place in rock. Although the Summer of Love was long over, hip bands like Santana and Creedence Clearwater Revival still came out of San Francisco and sold millions of albums. However, partially due to the influence of Bill Graham and the Fillmores, rock music had become big business. The Fillmore West, with a capacity of about 2500, was rapidly becoming too small for the various bands that had made the venue famous. The ballroom itself was upstairs from a car dealership (Waters Buick), and the venue had no room for expansion. Late in 1969, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Ralph J. Gleason, an ally of Graham's, put out the word that the building had been sold to the Howard Johnson's hotel chain, and the fabled Fillmore West would be torn down to build a hotel (Gleason dismissively called it an "ice cream stand"). The shrewd Graham, however, after some maneuvering, managed to take control of the nearby Winterland arena in early 1970, giving his company a much larger venue for expansion in the event that the Fillmore West would no longer be available.

Winterland was a cavernous ice palace on Post and Steiner, built in 1928, and two blocks from the old Fillmore. As far back as 1967, Bill Graham had moved events that were too large for the Fillmore or Fillmore West to Winterland. Winterland had a capacity of 5400, and it could easily be configured "Fillmore style" with an open floor and surrounding balconies. Usually, the only other events at Winterland were ice shows, such as the Ice Capades, which came in for a few weeks each year. Back in 1966 and '67, some other promoters had hired out Winterland a few times, but for the time it was a large venue, and usually only Graham had the promotional muscle to get the kind of bands who could fill it. When Graham asserted control of the venue in 1970, that seemed to assure that not only could larger BGP shows be held there, but the threat of closing the Fillmore West would not be catastrophic. It appears that Graham only booked Winterland as he needed to, depending on who was on tour and who was hot. Indirect evidence suggests, however, that Graham had contracted for New Year's Eve 1970 very early in the year, since he knew that he would have a big show there regardless of who exactly played.

Around August of 1970, however, due to some negotiations out of sight of the media, Graham lost the right to promote at Winterland. Graham's chief lieutenant, Paul Baratta, made an agreement with the owners of Winterland that he would book the venue. Baratta promptly started booking major bands in Winterland, apparently paying more than Graham. Not only was Graham  ferociously competitive on his own turf, and not only was his own aide-de-camp stealing his thunder, but losing Winterland in light of the sale of the Fillmore West put Bill Graham Presents at serious professional risk. Graham, of course, tried to force all the bands and booking agents to take sides for or against him, and I don't doubt that on the telephone he was apoplectic with rage towards any band playing Winterland. I have to assume, however, that he had already contracted to use Winterland on New Year's Eve, since he had the Grateful Dead headlining there.

"The Acoustic Dead"
Bill Graham Presents, like most rock promoters, had contractual agreements with bands that prevented them from advertising a performance within a certain radius and time prior to the event. Typically, a group like the Grateful Dead, signed to headline at Fillmore West or Winterland, would have been restricted from advertising a show within three weeks or 50 miles of the contracted event, or some similar parameters. Bill Graham was certainly cognizant of the value of bands like the Dead playing free concerts, but those by definition were unadvertised, so they would have created buzz without affecting ticket sales. When the Grateful Dead headlined the 1970 New Year's Eve show, supported only by the then-unknown New Riders of The Purple Sage and Stoneground, it was the first time the Dead had stood atop the bill at Winterland on their own. The Dead had played Winterland many times for Graham, but they had always been paired with another major group, like the Jefferson Airplane or Quicksilver Messenger Service. At the end of 1970, with two popular albums under their belt, the Dead seemed ready to headline by themselves, but it would not have been seen as the sure sellout it would be in later years.

In August, 1970, the Dead had played a few shows as "The Acoustic Dead." The impetus seems to have been that their PA and sound crew were on tour with Tom Donahue's "Medicine Ball Caravan," which the Dead dropped out of at the last minute. The band stayed home and recorded American Beauty, with Steve Barncard producing instead of Bob Matthews. When the Dead chose to play a few shows, they kept it low key and played some shows at the Matrix, San Diego's Community Concourse and the new Thee Club in Los Angeles. Thus, there was some precedent for the band playing in an acoustic configuration under a different name.

Nonetheless, playing a show at the very same venue they would be headlining eight days later under the name "Acoustic Dead" was a pretty sharp poke in Bill Graham's eye. The band also played a gig under the name "Acoustic Dead" at San Rafael's Pepperland two days earlier (December 21). That show was dealt with at length elsewhere, so I won't recap it, but among many other interesting things there seems to have been no pretense whatsoever at the Pepperland show that the Dead were planning to play acoustic, and they didn't. So not only were the Dead playing Winterland eight days before New Year's under the name "Acoustic Dead, " they weren't even playing acoustic. Although there is a nice tape of part of the December 23 Winterland show, I am not aware of a discussion of the peculiar circumstances surrounding it, so I am going to look at the event from the point of view of the Grateful Dead's complex relationship with Bill Graham. Why would the Dead provoke Graham by playing a show that undermined his promotion of them just days before their New Year's show?

Benefit For The Montessori School and The Bear
I am not aware of a poster for the December 23 show. However, by 1970, posters did not play an important role in the promotion of San Francisco rock shows. Bill Graham Presents still created posters for most of their Fillmore West shows, but they served as general promotion (what today would be called "Brand Marketing") rather than playing a critical role in spreading the word about specific shows or acts. The primary form of publicity for rock shows was advertising on music radio, particularly KSAN-fm, and ads and notices in the newspaper, with the San Francisco Chronicle the most prominent regional paper. Rock music was big business in San Francisco, so rock shows were advertised and highlighted in the newspaper like movies or plays.

There were two listings in the San Francisco Chronicle to promote the show. There was a brief mention the Monday before in John L. Wasserman's column, reproduced above. Wasserman had replaced the semi-retired Ralph Gleason in June of 1970. Three days a week he appended his column with a list of upcoming music highlights (rock, jazz and pop) from around the Bay Area, and he mentioned the Dead show on Monday (reproduced up top). On Wednesday, the day of the show, the Chronicle printed a picture of Jorma Kaukonen and had a little blurb, obviously written by the show's promoters. Such a picture and a blurb suggest that someone was talking to the Chronicle on behalf of the show, so it was a form of promotion, if not exactly advertising. Perhaps the Dead were trying to skirt their contract with Graham by not actually 'advertising' their appearance, just promoting it. It can't have gone over well with Bill.
A photo of Jorma Kaukonen, promting the 'acoustic' Dead and Hot Tuna at Winterland on December 23, 1970
Oddly enough, the photo of Jorma Kaukonen (above) seems several years old, and it may not have even been him at all, suggesting some kind of rush job. Under the header "Guitarist," the text says
Jorma Kaukonen, lead guitarist for Jefferson Airplane, is also one-half of Hot Tuna--the duo he and Airplane bassist Jack Casady formed some time ago. Hot Tuna, which specializes in relatively tranquil music and vocals, and has recorded one album, will appear in concert tonight with the "acoustic" Dead, the New Riders of The Purple Sage (an offshoot band of the Grateful Dead), Lizard and other musicians, in a benefit for the Montessori School and The Bear.
Montessori Schools were usually pre-schools designed around the developmental ideas of early 20th century Italian educator Maria Montessori, and they had become popular in the 60s. On the surface, this might appear to be a benefit for a local hip pre-school, and perhaps it was. I don't know, however, how wide a swath of hip San Francisco knew that "The Bear" was famed chemist and soundman Owsley Stanley, who was then in great legal jeopardy. While a lot of people must have recognized the name, even the Grateful Dead must have had some trepidation about overtly publicizing a benefit for a recently re-arrested LSD chemist, even if he was ostensibly retired from such businesses. Thus I expect that the Montessori School benefactors were included to sanitize the event somewhat, perhaps by providing a non-profit entity to justify the whole enterprise.

Owsley's Legal History
I am hardly an expert on Owsley's legal history, but it was complex. He had been in trouble with the Federal authorities for some time, and when he was busted down on Bourbon Street, that restricted his ability to travel. There was apparently some sort of pot bust/parole violation at Owsley's house in Oakland as well, although I am not certain whether that was in 1969 or 1970. In any case, it appears that something else had transpired and Owsley needed bail money, based on Jerry Garcia's closing remark "thanks for helping us bail out The Bear." The Grateful Dead were still cash-poor in 1970, so playing shows was the only real way they had of raising money. I suspect that the 'Acoustic Dead' shows at Pepperland and Winterland were emergency fund raisers whose cause justified irritating Bill Graham, at least in the Grateful Dead's eyes.

When Owsley had begun making LSD back in about 1965, one of his principal collaborators had been his girlfriend Melissa Cargill, who had been a chemistry student at UC Berkeley. As far as I know, Cargill was not a partner by the time LSD was made illegal in October 1966. However, I also know that Ms. Cargill became Jack Casady's girlfriend, at least for a while, so the ties between Owsley and the Airplane ran much deeper than may at first be apparent. I don't know if Cargill was still close to Casady in 1970 (as the saying goes, I don't know Jack), but Hot Tuna's presence was not at all a coincidence. At this time, Grace Slick was very pregnant (she would give birth on January 25, 1971), so the Airplane themselves would not have been available.

Bill Graham and The Grateful Dead
By the late 1970s, the Grateful Dead and Bill Graham were the last intact survivors of San Francisco's great rock scene of the 60s. It was in the interests of both parties to romanticize their historic relationship, since the foundational myths of both organizations were deeply rooted in that period. The actual reality of the Dead's relationship to Graham in the 60s was more complex. There seems to be no question that Jerry Garcia and the other members of the band genuinely liked Graham, and appreciated the professionalism with which he ran his shows on both coasts. However, the Grateful Dead were never comfortable with outside entities like promoters and record companies capitalizing on the band's success, and as a result the Dead were always willing to experiment with other business arrangements.

While the Grateful Dead enjoyed playing for Bill Graham at the Fillmore and Chet Helms at the Avalon, in 1968 they started their own ballroom at the Carousel. Thus they became Graham's competitor less than two years after the Fillmore opened. In the 1970s, when Jerry Garcia started playing around seriously with his own bands, his primary venue was Freddie Herrera's Keystone club rather than any Graham venues. None of this was personal, as far as I can tell, but all the evidence suggests that personal friendship aside, the Dead were always looking for a better deal than they thought they could get with Bill Graham. It was only when Graham was the last man standing that the two sides made a permanent peace.

I assume that Graham must have booked the Grateful Dead for New Year's Eve fairly early in the year, probably late summer. Paul Baratta did not take over Winterland until about September 1970, but apparently he was offering bands higher prices than Graham was. It seems that Baratta had booked the Grateful Dead into Winterland for February of 1971. Thus Baratta was not only taking over Graham's largest venue, he was taking a band that was among the most associated with the Fillmore. A big part of Graham's panache came from his self-described narrative as the first and best of rock promoters, so when an upstart took his band in his town, he had to be livid. Thus if the Dead were playing a benefit at Winterland  eight days before a Graham show, it may not have mattered so much since they had already infuriated him. From the Dead's point of view, it was just business: they got offered more money by Baratta, because Winterland was bigger than Fillmore West. When they needed a quick fundraiser, they went to Baratta for Winterland, and since they had already pissed off Graham anyway, another sin would not change their status.

Another factor may have been Grateful Dead tour manager Sam Cutler. Sam Cutler had come to the States as the Rolling Stones tour manager in the Fall of 1969. According to Cutler's book You Can't Always Get What You Want (2010: ECW Press, Toronto), the first time he met Graham was onstage at the Oakland Coliseum, prior to the Rolling Stones performance on November 9, 1969. Cutler didn't recognize Graham, and told him to get off the stage, and the two of them ended getting into a fistfight on stage--much to the amusement of the waiting crowd. Mick Jagger took Cutler's side, and according to Cutler, Graham never forgave Cutler (Cutler, p.92 "[Graham] was thoroughly humiliated, and it was something for which he never forgave the Stones or me"). Of course, Cutler subsequently took great delight in trying to best Graham, so it would have been entirely in character for Cutler to recommend using Winterland with the name 'Acoustic Dead' and not even play acoustic, just to irk his nemesis.

Winterland, December 23, 1970
I don't have a lot of information about the concert at Winterland on Wednesday, December 23, 1970. About 40 minutes of the concert survives on tape, and a fine 40 minutes it is. At the end of the set, Garcia says that Hot Tuna will be coming out to do a set, and thanks everyone for "helping us to bail out The Bear." This suggests to me that the Montessori school aspect of the benefit was some sort of cover for the real purpose, although it may have been sincere enough, as various members of the Dead family had young children.

The 44-minute tape that endures appears to be the end of the show:
Me And Bobby McGee
Dire Wolf
Good Lovin' > 
Drums > 
Good Lovin'
Casey Jones >
Uncle John's Band

A commenter on the Archive says that the Dead played about two hours, which seems about right for a 4-band show on a Wednesday night. The commenter also says that Winterland was "deserted," with something like 200 people there. I will remark that Winterland was a dark, cavernous place, and when it was not full it seemed considerably emptier than it probably was. Thus I take the reviewer at his word that the arena was far from filled, but I suspect a fair number of people must have passed through the doors. Still, considering that it was Wednesday before Christmas, I'm not surprised that the hall was hardly packed. However,  since the bands, the crew and many of the staff were probably genuinely in support of bailing out Owsley, almost all of the money must have gone straight towards the beneficiaries, unlike at some benefits. I know nothing about the sets by Hot Tuna or the New Riders,  nor even who the band 'Lizard' might have been. Needless to say, if anyone knows anything or has a sudden flashback, please post them in the Comments.

A clip from John Wasserman's Chronicle column on December 28, 1970
It appears that the Grateful Dead benefit on Wednesday, December 23, 1970 was the last show of Paul Baratta's reign at Winterland. John Wasserman had been reporting that the whole enterprise was shaky all month, and soon after Christmas it came out that Winterland was back under the control of Bill Graham Presents. In Wasserman's December 28 column (above), he says that "the Grateful Dead, marked in [to Winterland] by Baratta for February 19 [1971], "may play in March" according to Graham." Whether this has anything to do with the Airwaves Benefit at Fillmore West on March 3, 1971 is unclear to me. In any case, the Grateful Dead ended up headlining Winterland for two days in May, and the Baratta episode was written out of the narrative of Bill Graham and the Grateful Dead.

But it happened. The Grateful Dead had a New Year's Eve show booked with Bill Graham for December 31, 1970, and they played the same venue under a different name for their own purposes. It's a miracle the tape survived, since Owsley was probably in jail at the time and the whole thing was just thrown together. Here's to hoping that a few of the people who were lucky enough to see the show still recall something.


  1. A fascinating tale. I had always wondered why the Dead had billed themselves as "Acoustic Dead" for a couple shows in December 70, when they must have had no intention of playing acoustic. (Even when they did a little radio appearance to promote the Legion Stadium shows, they played a little on-air acoustic-gospel set with NRPS, resembling nothing actually played at the shows!)
    And's still murky, though now we have Bill Graham in the picture too; and perhaps it was some kind of response to him.

    His business machinations are always a twisted tale... That last news article, where he cancels several planned Winterland shows (apparently just because the agreed fees were too high), seems almost self-destructive!

    The story of Bear's incarceration is a murky one.
    The accepted history in all the Dead books is that he went into prison in July 1970 and served two years.
    Bear himself says (in the Taping Compendium interview): "The courts restricted my travel in February 1970 after the bust in New Orleans. They canceled my appeal bond in July 1970 and sent me to do my time. It crippled my appeal because I could not supervise the lawyers while I was locked up. I didn't get out until July 1972."
    In the Conversations with the Dead book he also says "they carted me off to the joint" in mid-1970: "In February they stopped me going on the road because we got busted in New Orleans. I had already been convicted and been sentenced and was awaiting my appeals. The Dead got busted and I was busted with them, and that sent a bad message to the judge, and he revoked my permission to travel." (p324)

    JGMF has pointed out, though, that the actual date he started serving time is unknown. Apparently he had been busted again on July 15, 1970 (JGMF probably has more details on that). It doesn't seem coincidental that the Dead's July 16 show is known as "Bear's going-away party."
    The "LSD King" was famed enough that I'm sure there would have been newspaper notices at the time of any trial results. (Which papers and which dates, though...)

    Judging by what Bear says above, the trial had already taken place (due to a 1967 offense), and he was out on appeal. So apparently it was the July 1970 bust that led the court to cancel his appeal bond, and triggered his imprisonment.

    The interesting thing is that Jerry specifically announces that the show is "helping us bail out the Bear."
    I'm no legal expert, but as far as I know, isn't bail something posted BEFORE a trial - in fact, as shortly after arrest as possible?
    This raises the question of just what Bear was up to between July & December 70. I could be wrong, but if he was midway through a 2-year sentence already, bail money would do little good in freeing him. Unless Jerry was just speaking loosely.
    It seems to me that there may have been more legal proceedings coming up in the appeals process - since Bear, as he says, "could not supervise the lawyers while I was locked up," the Dead were trying to raise money for the legal fees, technically not "bail."
    And as it happened, it didn't work, and Bear wasn't freed.

    What's also quite intriguing is that the Dead were opening for Hot Tuna on 12/23. That's something you didn't see too often!

  2. PS - It's no miracle the 12/23 tape survived. The Dead's sound crew had started taping the Dead again earlier in December (starting on the 12th) - as a result, we have most of their shows from this month. (The 21st-22nd are still missing, at least in circulation. I believe Charlie Miller said he has the full show of 12/23.)

    My guess is, the Dead were already planning to record a live album in early 1971 (we know that in mid-December they were mixing multitrack tapes of the October 70 Winterland shows), so they must have wanted to have live tapes of themselves again to refer to.

  3. Just my opinion, but I think you're putting too much stock into Jerry's words when he mentions "bailing out The Bear." Since it doesn't sound like he actually needed to be bailed out of jail, it sounds to me like casual slang more than an accurate description of events. Maybe they were "bailing him out of a jam" that he was in, like needing money to pay lawyers.

  4. Nice! As I reported in comments to my post on the NRPS/Acoustic GD shows July 30-August 1, 1970 at the Lion's Share, Bear was busted at 6024 Ascot Drive, Oakland, CA, 94611 on July 15, 1970 ("'LSD King' Nabbed Again in Drug Raid," Oakland Tribune, July 16, 1970, p. 19).

    The reason I say this is that everything to do with Bear's (and everyone's) legal hassles is among the areas of GD history that are the most dominated by vague received wisdoms. The truth is, we don't know squat about when bear went to jail, nor when he got out, nor, correspondingly, any consequences for the GD.

    I have no idea what they mean about bailing out the Bear, but there certainly is a lot of shit swirling around at this time. October-December 1970 is a deeply weird period in Deadland.

  5. I agree with Jeremy that Jerry was just talking very loosely about "bailing out the Bear," and probably just meant something like helping him out with the legal fees, the way the 2/23/70 benefit helped out the Dead.

    (The thing is, we probably have the wrong end of the show - it's possible someone might've talked to the audience a bit about Bear's situation at the START of the show.)

    Despite JGMF's reservations and the lack of hard evidence, I think the timeline is pretty straight:

    July 15: Bear busted in Oakland.
    July 16: the Dead play a show in San Rafael that comes to be known in Dead lore as "Bear's going-away party."
    "They canceled my appeal bond in July 1970 and sent me to do my time... I didn't get out until July 1972." (Bear)

    This matches the vague received wisdom perfectly. In fact, there is plenty of evidence, albeit all of it secondary - we do know quite a bit.
    As I understand it, the charge he served time for was not from the two 1970 busts, but from a 1967 drug arrest.
    In the Conversations interview, Bear mentions that he was busted in December 1967 for LSD manufacture. (There's a picture of him going into the court for his initial arraignment wearing buckskin.)
    The GD Illustrated Trip book (p89) mentions that in mid-1968, Bear was "awaiting sentencing on an LSD bust."
    Bear says in the Conversations interview that by 1970, "I had already been convicted and been sentenced and was awaiting my appeals."
    The case is also described in this excellent Rolling Stone bio of Owsley:
    It notes that the initial drug bust was on December 20, 1967, and "Owsley's case dragged through the courts for the next two years."
    After the Jan 1970 bust, "although all charges were eventually dropped, "a fucking judge who wanted to make sure I did time" revoked Owsley's bail on the 1967 LSD bust after he was arrested again in Oakland."
    Bear also mentions (in Conv p323) that "it was really only one offense, they made three charges out of it and strung 'em out."
    (The Illustrated Trip, though not a perfect reference, also mentions 12/23/70 as being a benefit "for Bear's ongoing legal battles.")

    Though it would be great to find more contemporary news articles to add precise details, I think the general picture is clear:
    After the Dec 67 bust, Bear was out on bail up to 1970. After being sentenced to prison (sometime in 1968?), he posted an appeal bond and remained out on appeal. The Feb 70 bust caused a judge to revoke Bear's permission to travel outside CA; the July 70 bust caused a judge to revoke Bear's bail, thus sending him to prison for 2 years. Bear continued to appeal from prison, at least up to Dec 70.

    (Ironically, in later interviews he seems to have been more content with prison life than he was with the GD scene when he came back in late 72!)

  6. Nice work, LIA. The '67 bust was in Orinda, California, for those keeping score.

  7. The Orinda bust seems to have been Thursday, December 21, 1967. Melissa Cargill, identified as Owsley's girlfriend, and the one who "provided the scientific know-how" (per the UPI Wire story from the San Mateo Times, December 21, 1967), was also arrested. Three others were arrested too, including Robert Thomas, whom I assume to have been the Bob Thomas who did the lightning bolt logo and other artworks for the Dead.

  8. Well I'm 70 now but I was at that concert and let me tell you bear might have not been there but there was a lot of pretty little blonde girls with Visine bottles walking around and if you were smart enough to set your cup down a railing you had a real good time my problem was I couldn't get out of the balcony and they kept feeling my Cuppa the rest of the story is somebody walked out from behind the stage with two garbage can filled with liquid one that said straight and one that said Electric what I remember most is I woke up the next morning clutching a piece of cardboard in my hand that said Electric

    1. My sister and I were there...I think we paid 2$ to get in.
      Super small crowd.
      We partook from the “electric” plastic garbage juice.
      It was an all nighter...left while Hot Tuna was still playing.

    2. My sister and I were there...I think we paid 2$ to get in.
      Super small crowd.
      We partook from the “electric” plastic garbage juice.
      It was an all nighter...left while Hot Tuna was still playing.