Thursday, September 6, 2012

Jerry Garcia Album Economics Spring 1978 (Tour Itinerary February 1978)

The cover of Cats Under The Stars, by The Jerry Garcia Band, released on Arista Records in April, 1978
In late 1977, the Jerry Garcia Band recorded Cats Under The Stars at Club Front. The old warehouse had been the Garcia Band rehearsal hall, but Ron Tutt liked the drum sound so much that Garcia had Betty Cantor-Jackson convert the room into a recording studio. The album was released in April of 1978 on Arista Records, and it sold very poorly. Garcia often recounted how much effort he put into the album, and how disappointed he was that Cats did poorly:
  • "[Cats Under The Stars] had everything - chops, production, songs"
  • "Cats Under The Stars is my favorite one. That's the one that I'm happiest with, from every point of view in which I operate on that record. We did all those tunes on tour right after the album came out, with John and Maria, Keith and Donna"
  • "The record I worked hardest at and liked best was Cats Under The Stars. That was kind of like my baby. It did worse than any other record I ever did. I think I probably gave away more copies than I sold. It was amazingly, pathetically bad. But I've learned not to invest a lot of importance in 'em, although it's nice to care about your work."
John Kahn concurred
"We put so much blood into that record. That was our major try. It was all new material and we did it ourselves. We spent so many hours in the studio" (all quotes via Deaddisc)
After the financial debacle of Grateful Dead Records and its sister, Round Records, the Grateful Dead signed with Arista Records at the end of 1976. For the first time since 1967, the Dead had worked with an outside producer who was not a friend of the band, as Keith Olsen had produced 1977's Terrapin Station. After the greatly disappointing sales of Cats, Garcia seemed to lose interest in studio recording and writing original material. He continued to play fantastic live music with both the Dead and his own ensembles throughout the remainder of his career, and he did write the occasional fine song with Hunter. Garcia also participated in some fine studio projects as well, such as In The Dark and various records with David Grisman, but compared to the first 10 years of his rock career, it was plain that Garcia wasn't really interested in the studio after Cats Under The Stars.

Garcia was such an engaging and articulate interview subject that it was easy for him to hide in plain sight. No one ever really inquired what he expected from Cats Under The Stars, and how he saw the future playing out. I cannot divine how Garcia felt personally, so I won't attempt it. However, I think I can construct a reasonable picture of of how Garcia felt that the economics of the Arista Records contract would have worked to his and the Grateful Dead's advantage, allowing him and his friends and bandmates to make the music they wanted to and live the lives they chose. It didn't work out that way, but I will argue that the 1977-78 period represented a "Plan B" to replace Grateful Dead Records. It was a "Plan B" that failed, by and large, and I think that accounted for much of Garcia's musical retreat towards emphasizing live performance.

What Did Jerry Want?
In a 1971 Rolling Stone interview, Keith Richards was asked about John Lennon' stature, and Keith said "no one gets to be John Lennon by accident." This was not a jealous snipe; indeed, Keith was very much implying the same about himself. It's no less important to apply Keith's dictum to Jerry: no one gets to be Jerry Garcia by accident. Some of the byproducts of being Jerry Garcia may have been unintended, but Garcia worked incredibly hard for decades to achieve his stature as a musical giant and an iconoclastic rock star who became rich and famous almost entirely on his own terms, while breaking most of the written and unwritten rules in the music industry.

Garcia ultimately may have wished that less attention would have been paid to his non-musical utterances, but with a guitar in his hands he was a gunslinger. He wanted the maximum reach for his music, and he didn't want to get it by giving away the challenging edge that made him appealing in the first place. At any time, he could have taken a year or two off from touring and hung out, as so many others did, but instead he did the opposite, starting new bands and touring and recording just as much outside the Dead as with them. For all Garcia's uniqueness, he was still an ambitious rock star. Gracious as he generally was, he had to have quietly enjoyed the Dire Straits song "Money For Nothing" because he was actually the object of the song, not the subject. Garcia wanted three things from rock stardom, in this order:
  1. Freedom to play the music he wanted, regardless of the cost of sound systems or any equipment
  2. Financial security for his fellow musicians, including their families
  3. The material trappings that go with stardom: black BMWs, rare comic books, recreational substances, money for nothing and chicks for free
For all these things, Garcia and the Grateful Dead needed money, lots of it. By the mid-70s, they were touring successfully enough to make a living, but they couldn't do just anything they wanted. They had tried that with Grateful Dead/Round Records, and they had taken a huge bath. To compound the problem, Garcia had spent two years working on the Grateful Dead movie, and that project had sucked up enormous amounts of cash in its own right. Garcia and the Dead may have needed the money when they finally signed with Clive Davis and Arista Records in late 1976, but I think Garcia looked at his peers and he had a plan. I don't think that Garcia and the band sat around the office and had a meeting about strategic branding, but I think with some nudges from Arista, Jerry saw a way he could still get what he wanted within the confines of the late 70s record industry.

The cover to the Grateful Dead's Terrapin Station album, released on Arista in July, 1977
The Grateful Dead and Arista Records: Plan B
Touring was profitable in the mid-70s, but not nearly as profitable as it would become in the late 1980s, once concert sheds like Shoreline Amphitheater ruled the land. The real money was in record sales. Grateful Dead Records had sagged because distribution was inferior--the band could sell records, but they couldn't get paid. However, by the mid-70s the record industry was so lucrative that independence wasn't absolutely necessary. Many of the Jerry Garcia's peers were becoming extremely successful, much more so than they had been in the 1960s. I think Garcia's plan for success was modeled on the Jefferson Starship, the Steve Miller Band and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, all of whom (in various forms) were more successful than they had been when they were 60s legends. What the three bands had in common were both commercially successful albums and a financial house in order.

I don't think Garcia and the Dead were sitting around reading Billboard Magazine, but Arista surely was, and they must have helped to persuade Garcia of the value of this approach. Many of the big bands in the mid-1970s had been slugging it out on the Fillmore circuit in the 60s, but were only reaping the rewards 5 to 10 years later. By 1977, for example, The Jefferson Starship had had huge hits with "Miracles" and many other songs, and the Steve Miller Band had had a gigantic album with Fly Like An Eagle. Many of the most popular English bands that were headlining baseball stadiums in 1977 had members that had been in bands that had opened for the Dead at the Fillmores, like Peter Frampton (in Humble Pie), Robin Trower (in Procol Harum), Foghat (in Savoy Brown) and, of course, the new edition of Fleetwood Mac.

The quietly competitive Garcia can not have been happy to see guys in bands who had opened for the Dead several years ago now headlining stadiums, even if he didn't begrudge them personally. Some of the professional decisions that Garcia and The Grateful Dead made in 1977 make sense if we consider that Garcia was looking to emulate the success of his peers in order to play the music he wanted.  I am going to consider the various peers Garcia was probably thinking about, and consider the Grateful Dead and the Jerry Garcia Band in comparison.

The cover to the Jefferson Starship album Red Octopus, released on Grunt/RCA Records in June, 1975
Jefferson Starship
The Jefferson Airplane had been a very successful band in the 1960s, and they sold a lot of records and made a lot of money, most of which didn't go the Airplane members themselves. Even through the 70s, most of the members were tied up in litigation with their former manager Matthew Katz, and the usual poor judgement of 60s musicians had made the band members perpetually cash poor. By 1974, however, Paul Kantner had righted the ship by renaming the band Jefferson Starship. The band's creative but notoriously diffuse talents were harnessed by professional production, and albums like Dragonfly and Red Octopus made money hand over fist. The story is too long to tell here--read Jeff Tamarkin's fine Airplane biography Got A Revolution for the whole tale--but by the late 1970s the Starship were hugely successful, and keeping the money.

By 1977, the Dead had resolved their management issues and settled their debts, but they didn't really have any cushion beyond their touring income. Garcia had always been personally and professionally close to Paul Kantner, Grace Slick and David Freiberg, so he had to be acutely aware of the Starship's triumphs. The Starship was less adventurous live than the Grateful Dead, but there were fewer restrictions on a popular band in the 1970s concert environment. I think Garcia saw the economic benefits of Red Octopus, and felt that if the Dead could emulate that, it would finance the music they wanted to make. I don't for a second mean to suggest that Garcia wasn't trying to make great music with the Dead, just that he was trying to make that music in live performance, and let a producer make the studio album.

Keith Olsen had been a 60s musician himself (surely you recall "Talk Talk" by The Music Machine), and he had produced the hugely popular Fleetwood Mac album for that band. The Mac were old pals of the Dead, albeit in a different configuration, so I think Garcia hoped that Olsen could make Terrapin Station into Red Octopus. The resulting windfall would have allowed Garcia and the Dead to make whatever music they wanted on stage while insuring financial security. Another comparison would have been Santana, who had recently released some commercially successful records, with singles like "Well Alright" and "Winning," while still playing exciting, improvisational music on stage. Garcia had helped produce the Dead's last three studio albums, but the band hadn't really had a studio success since 1970's American Beauty, and even that had been produced by a semi-outsider, ace engineer Stephen Barncard.

The cover to Fly Like An Eagle, by The Steve Miller Band, released on Capitol Records in May, 1976
Steve Miller Band
Although Garcia had deferred production of Terrapin Station to Keith Olsen, Garcia's creative goals remained intact. Having written a few songs for the Dead's Terrapin Station album, he seemed to have focused his efforts on his own band. Garcia's music had its own internal dynamic, but I think on a business level Garcia modeled his approach on the Steve Miller Band. The Steve Miller Band had been peers of the Grateful Dead in the 60s, a little less popular, but more or less on the same tier. The Steve Miller Band had released some fine albums in the 60s, but they had treaded water in the early 70s. Although there was a continuity in the group's sound, the "Band" was just Steve Miller and whoever he was playing with. In 1973, Miller had had a surprise hit with "The Joker," but he then confounded orthodoxy by not releasing an album for the next three years.

The Steve Miller Band returned in 1976 with the stunning Fly Like An Eagle. Eagle took all the virtues of Miller's previous records and distilled them into a radio friendly format. The sound on the album was spectacular, and it was even more so on the widely available high fidelity FM radios in so many new cars. The blues, space and swagger of Miller's previous albums was smoothed out to make them more accessible, and in return, the Steve Miller Band had a giant, multi-platinum album, along with some giant singles (the title track, 'Take The Money And Run," and "Rock 'N' Me"). It was followed in 1977 by the equally huge Book Of Dreams album. Whether you like Fly Like An Eagle better than 1968's Children Of The Future is a different question. From Miller's point of view, after Fly Like An Eagle, he could do whatever he wanted. I think Garcia noticed.

By the end of 1977, the Steve Miller Band was one of the best selling bands in the world, and they weren't even a band. By the mid-70s, Miller had a rotating cast of players, many of whom had toured with Miller at one time or another, and they were used on different tracks as appropriate. So while the Steve Miller Band wasn't a group in the traditional sense, the players had a collective consciousness that lent the albums a cohesive feel. While Miller and Garcia weren't close like Garcia and the Starship crowd, they had certainly played together a number of times and shared backstages often, so Garcia can't have been unaware at Miller's ability to take his own music and make it a commercial success.

I think Garcia planned Cats Under The Stars as his Fly Like An Eagle. It was all Garcia music, but it was designed to have the craziest edges rounded off. The songs were five minutes long instead of fifteen, and the production had that FM sheen that sounded good on the highway. The Garcia Band would still have been free to play "Don't Let Go" for as long as they wanted on stage, but the album was aimed towards a more general audience. By choosing the name Jerry Garcia Band, Garcia and Kahn were not tied to specific collaborators. Besides Keith and Donna Godchaux, Ron Tutt and Maria Muldaur, old friends Merl Saunders and Steve Schuster each played parts. Looking forward to future albums, the Garcia Band name would have allowed Jerry and John to use whomever they wanted as the music dictated.

The cover to the CSN album by Crosby, Stills and Nash, released on Atlantic Records in June, 1977. The original lp had a different cover photo, although from the same photo shoot.
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
In 1978, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were not an intact band, but I still think they were influential. The quartet were peers and friends of Garcia as well, to differing extents, so I think Garcia would have felt that their experiences could provide an adequate comparison to the Dead. Back in 1970, CSNY had been one of the biggest acts in the country, but the band disintegrated soon afterwards. However, all of the band members released fairly successful solo albums, and when CSNY re-united to tour in 1974, they were an even bigger attraction than when they had broken up, and this was without a new album.

An abortive 1975 reunion album devolved into a pair of duos (Stills/Young and Crosby/Nash), both of which toured successfully (1976 live tapes of the Stills/Young Band are amazing, by the way). In 1977, Crosby Stills and Nash gave up on the mercurial Neil Young, and recorded the CSN album. Released in June, 1977 the album reached #2 and the trio toured successfully without Young. The lesson that the record industry took from CSNY was that music fans were sophisticated enough to understand that artists had many facets. Solo success by Stills, Young and the Crosby/Nash duo only added to the luster of CSN and CSNY. Successful albums and tours by Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir would only add to the success of the Grateful Dead.

Arista must have pointed this out to Garcia, figuring that between the Dead, Jerry and Bob they had tripled their chances for a hit. From Arista's point of view, other companies were making a pile of money on old Fillmore bands: Captiol (Steve Miller), Columbia (Boz Scaggs), RCA (Jefferson Starship) and Warners (Fleetwood Mac) were all cashing chips big time, and Clive Davis and Arista probably felt that the Dead were as good a bet as any of those bands. Thus Garcia's focus on his own album would have been pitched by Arista as financially good for the Dead, rather than a threat, and I think rightfully so. Even if Grateful Dead Records was no more, Garcia still had a vision where he could get where he wanted to go in the way he wanted to get there. If Cats Under The Stars (or Heaven Help The Fool) had been a big hit, the Grateful Dead as a whole would have benefited enormously.

The cover to Bob Weir's Heaven Help The Fool album, released January 1978 on Arista.
Grateful Dead/Jerry Garcia/Bob Weir/Robert Hunter Tour Itinerary, February 1978
The remarkable flurry of activity in February 1978 makes more sense in the context of the band's multi-faceted assault on rock stardom. Terrapin Station had been released in July of 1977 and had not been a huge success, although it hadn't completely tanked. In January of 1978, Bob Weir had released his Heaven Help The Fool album, also produced by Keith Olsen. It was designed to make Weir a star along the lines of someone like Boz Scaggs, ironically enough a former member of the Steve Miller Band himself.

Meanwhile Garcia was still finishing up Cats Under The Stars. Since the Jerry Garcia Band would tour the East Coast in March, the month before the album came out, I think there was a disconnect between the plans of Garcia and Arista, but in any case Garcia Band tours were inherently profitable. At the same time, Robert Hunter had recorded an album at Club Front, recorded by Betty Matthews and probably financed by Garcia. While success for Hunter was less critical to the grand scheme--except to Hunter, of course--it fit in with the CSNY concept that success for any component strengthened the whole edifice.

None of it happened. Terrapin Station did OK, but it was no Red Octopus. Cats Under The Stars and Heaven Help The Fool were--in industry parlance--stiffs. Hunter's album was never released. Garcia and Hunter stepped away from recording in the studio, and Garcia narrowed his focus to live performance. Time kept slipping, slipping, slipping into the future, however, and ironically, with the growth of the concert industry in the 80s and 90s, the Dead finally made the money they had been hoping to make, long after Garcia had given up on flying like an eagle.

That's not how it seemed in February of 1978. Every band was on tour, everything was happening, and after the disappointments of Grateful Dead Records and Blues For Allah, it seemed like success was finally just around the corner.

January 30-February 1, 1978: Uptown Theater, Chicago, IL: Grateful Dead
I have discussed the Grateful Dead's unique tour itinerary for January 1978 elsewhere. The band played California and the West Coast and made some great music, but the tour may not have made financial sense. Fresno was thinly attended--really thinly--and Bakersfield was problematic as well. The Dead's peculiar touring scheduled suggests that a show or shows on the weekend of January 27-28 were canceled. That is the only explanation I can find for the Dead taking an eight day break after Eugene, OR (January 22) and then playing three weeknights in Chicago in the Dead of winter.

The Uptown Theater in Chicago, located on 4816 N. Broadway, was built in 1925 and had a capacity of 4,381. The Dead played Monday through Wednesday nights. Tapes suggests that the band played terrifically well, as they had throughout the tour.

February 3, 1978: Dane County Coliseum, Madison, WI: Grateful Dead
On Friday night, the Grateful Dead played the Dane County Coliseum in Madison, WI. Madison was the home of the University of Wisconsin, and I have to assume it was prime Deadhead territory. I also think that not too many bands came through Madison in the Winter, and a rockin' good time must have been had by all. Dane County Coliseum was a typical Midwestern hockey arena, built in 1967 with a capacity of 10,231. The Dead always played well in places like this, possibly because venue operators were used to crazy hockey fans, and found Deadheads harmless. The venue is now known as the Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

I had this tape many years ago, and much of the second set was released on Dick's Picks Vol 18. If I recall correctly, there was no drum solo in the second set, an indicator that the dreaded "format" was not fully locked in yet. 

February 4, 1978; Milwaukee Auditorium, Milwaukee, WI: Grateful Dead
On Saturday night, the Dead played the much smaller Milwaukee Auditorium, capacity 4,086. It was built in 1909 and located on 500 W. Kilborn Avenue. It is now known as the Milwaukee Theater. Even though Milwaukee is a bigger city than Madison, the Dead played a smaller venue, a clear sign to me that the band's primary audience was over in Madison. Also, back in '73, the Dead's sound system was so big it took two days to set up, but now the band could roll in and out of a venue in a night. A few songs from this show were released on Dick's Picks Vol 18.

February 5, 1978: Uni-Dome, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA: Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead's winter mini-tour ended in the far-flung outpost of Cedar Falls, IA, at the University of Northern Iowa. Cedar Falls is 275 miles East of Milwaukee, 125 miles Northeast of Des Moines, and not really near anywhere. Football is a Fall sport, and yet the newly-constructed (1976) Uni-Dome at the University of Northern Iowa provided a domed venue for football games. This tells you how cold the area was in the Fall, much less in February. The capacity of the Uni-Dome ranges from 10,000 for basketball, to 16,000 for football to 22, 000 for special events.

I don't think a lot of major touring bands get up to Cedar Falls at all, much less in February. A commenter on the Archive says it was the coldest night of the year--which in Iowa would be pretty darn cold--but it didn't matter. The house must have been rocking, and I have to think mostly with students who had nothing else to do on a cold Sunday night. I wonder what the actual attendance of the show was? There were probably only about 12,000 students in the school at the time.

Some of the show was released on Dick's Picks Vol 18 as well. I had a tape of the second set for many years. If a casual concert goer wasn't persuaded by that night's show, they definitely weren't Deadhead material. The Dead's strange ability to blow the big ones while delivering a knockout blow in the middle of nowhere remains one of their most emblematic traits. 

February 7-8, 1978: Shady Grove, San Francisco, CA: Robert Hunter and Comfort
Meanwhile, back in San Francisco, various Grateful Dead entities were preparing to go out on tour, beginning their multi-pronged assault on America. I have written about the touring history of Robert Hunter and Comfort at some length, so I needn't recap it all here. However, by February of 1978 they had finished recording their album, though it isn't clear to me whether Hunter already knew it wasn't going to be released. Indeed, it remains obscure what label it was intended for, and why exactly it has never seen the light of day.

Nonetheless, in early 1978 Comfort pianist Richard McNeese had left the band, and was replaced by local pianist Ozzie Ahlers, a transplant from the Woodstock, NY area. Ahlers had played with Van Morrison and Jesse Colin Young, among many others. Hunter and Comfort played two weeknight shows at one of their regular haunts, The Shady Grove, presumably to get ready for some high profile touring with the Jerry Garcia Band. The Shady Grove was at 1538 Haight Street, between Ashbury and Clayton. The club featured mostly local bands. I believe Comfort had played there regularly before Hunter had even joined up with the group.

February 14-16, 1978: Keystone Berkeley, Berkeley, CA: Jerry Garcia Band
Less than 10 days after returning from the Grateful Dead's winter tour, Jerry Garcia and Keith and Donna Godchaux were back on stage at Garcia's home court, the Keystone Berkeley. Garcia must have still been finishing up Cats Under The Stars, if only to approve final mixes, album art and so on. The Jerry Garcia Band was gearing up for a 9 date East Coast tour, which included a number of double shows and some very high profile bookings. I have to think the tour was planned with the idea that Cats Under The Stars would already have been released, but presumably something held it up. As was his custom, Garcia seems to have minimized rehearsal and preferred to play shows at the Keystone Berkeley instead.

The Jerry Site shows four consecutive nights at Keystone Berkeley, on February 14-17. However, I don't think that the Garcia Band played 4 nights in a row at Keystone Berkeley, certainly not before two nights of concerts on the 18th and 19th. I am unable to track the provenance of this, but as usual I may be at least partially guilty. My notes (the source for Deadbase IX) say that JGB played three nights in Berkeley, and then has Keystone Palo Alto on February 17 as a question mark. Regardless, I don't think the Garcia Band played anywhere on February 17, and I wouldn't be surprised if they only played two of the three nights from the 14th through the 16th.

February 17-19, 1978: The Roxy, Los Angeles, CA: Bob Weir Band (early and late shows)
With Heaven Help The Fool having been released in January of 1978, the Bob Weir Band was gearing up to tour as well. Rather than draw from the usual San Francisco suspects, Weir had organized a group of Los Angeles based musicians. I have dealt with this subject at length as well. Ibanez guitar rep Jeff Hasselberger had introduced Weir to guitarist Bobby Cochran, and the two Bobs had signed up drummer John Mauceri and bassist Rick Carlos. Carlos in turn invited organist Brent Mydland, with whom Carlos had played in various bands. The Bob Weir Band tour was originally scheduled for December of 1977, which leads me to think that both Garcia and Weir's albums were originally scheduled for earlier than they were actually released. Unlike Garcia, however, Weir could not afford to tour until he had an album to support.

Weir and his cohorts must have spent the time between the end of the Dead tour and the beginning of the Bob Weir Band tour rehearsing. I have to suspect that the Bob Weir Band rehearsals were held in Los Angeles and not in San Francisco, another break from regular Dead practices. The Bob Weir Band debuted at The Roxy on the Sunset Strip, far and away the most high profile rock club west of the Mississippi. The Roxy, at 9009 W. Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, had opened on September 23, 1973. The Roxy was operated by Elmer Valentine, the proprietor of West Hollywood's legendary Whisky A Go Go. It was backed by some of the biggest names in the industry: Lou Adler (of Ode Records), David Geffen (of Asylum Records), Elliot Roberts (the manager of CSNY and Joni Mitchell) and Peter Asher (besides being "Peter" in Peter & Gordon, he was Linda Ronstadt's producer). Artists played The Roxy to see and be seen, in true Hollywood fashion.

Weir had played The Roxy before, with Kingfish in March of 1976. Then, too, when he had played The Roxy it had been because Kingfish had also just released a new album. The Roxy wasn't intended to be financially sound for bands. They got paid, but not that much. Playing The Roxy meant that everybody in the industry checked you out. For a member of the Grateful Dead to begin his tour by playing The Roxy on a weekend was a clear indicator that Weir was approaching his album differently from the usual Grateful Dead spin-off.

February 18, 1978: Marin Veterans Memorial Auditorium, San Rafael, CA: Jerry Garcia Band/Robert Hunter and Comfort
Bill Graham Presents promoted two Jerry Garcia Band shows in the Bay Area, quite a rarity during the 1970s. At this time, Freddie Herrera's Keystone family of clubs were Garcia's home base. However, there were not Keystones in Marin or Santa Cruz, so presumably Garcia felt that his loyalty was not compromised. The Jerry Garcia Band was about to embark on a 9-date, 12-show East Coast tour in March, with Robert Hunter and Comfort opening several of the shows. Money aside, I assume that one reason for these two Bay Area shows was for the band and crew to check out the concert configuration of the two bands

The Marin Veteran's Memorial Auditorium, part of the Marin Civic Center in San Rafael, was finished in 1971. It seats 1,960. It was rarely used for rock shows in the 1970s, although interestingly enough, parts of Peter Frampton's bestselling Frampton Comes Alive album was recorded there. Over the years, Marin Vets was used more often for shows, and the Grateful Dead played a number of fine shows there. In 1978, however, I believe this was Garcia's first concert (as opposed to nightclub) appearance in his home county in some time.

In retrospect, one interesting footnote to the Marin Vets show was that it would have been the first time Jerry Garcia heard keyboardist Ozzie Ahlers play. Ahlers had recently joined Comfort, replacing Richard McNeese on piano. After the early 70s, Garcia was no longer able to casually hang out and jam with or listen to musicians without attracting attention. Nicky Hopkins, Brent Mydland, Ozzie Ahlers and Melvin Seals had all been in bands that opened for Garcia or the Dead, and that seems to have been Garcia's principal source of new keyboard players (James Booker and Jimmy Warren excepted). Although no one ever asked him about it, he would have had a good chance to hear Ahlers in February and March of 1978, and he seems to have stored that information away for a while, as Ahlers was invited to join the Garcia Band in October of 1979.

February 19, 1978: Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, Santa Cruz, CA: Jerry Garcia Band/Robert Hunter and Comfort
The Jerry Garcia Band had played Santa Cruz with some regularity, but mostly at the smaller Del Mar Theater. The Civic Auditorium, at 307 Church Street, has a capacity of about 2000. Garcia had played there before with Old And In The Way. I have also written about the Dead, Garcia and Santa Cruz at length, so again I won't recap it all. However, while Garcia's future haunt The Catalyst had opened some years earlier, in 1978 it was still a coffee shop on Front Street, and had not moved to its current location on Pacific Avenue where it was big enough to book the JGB.

February 19, 1978 was a Sunday night, but Monday was President's Day, so it counted as a weekend night. Tracks from both Marin Vets and Santa Cruz were part of the fine Bay Area 1978 release.

February 23, 1978: Civic Center Theater, St. Paul, MN: Bob Weir Band/Doucette
Having debuted at The Roxy in Los Angeles, and with Heaven Help The Fool in the stores, the Bob Weir Band began a relatively traditional 70s rock tour. It began in Bloomington, MN, in a suburb of Minneapolis, at the Metropolitan Sports Center. The Met Center was a hockey arena built in 1962, home of the NHL's Minnesota North Stars, with a capacity of 15,000. While I find it surprising that Weir could headline such a big place on a Thursday night, I suspect that like many indoor arenas it had different configurations, and the functional capacity for the Weir show was considerably smaller.
Update: I had thought that the tour opened in Bloomington, MN, at the Met Center, but Commenter John says that in fact the show was at the Theater in the St. Paul Civic Center. The Civic Center, at 175 W. Kellogg Boulevard, was built in 1973. I'm not sure which of the smaller theaters attached to the main facility was used for Weir's show.

On the other hand, not so many bands tour the very cold upper Midwest in February--well, other than the Grateful Dead--, so there may have been a fair amount of fans happy to see any member of the Dead in any configuration. A booking like this was as much to generate attention and encourage FM radio play for a new album as it was for concert receipts. Singer-guitarist Jerry Doucette had just released a successful album in his native Canada, Mama Let Him Play. His tour with the Bob Weir Band was an effort to expand his audience into the States.

February 25, 1978: Riviera Theater, Chicago, IL: Bob Weir Band/Doucette
While its possible the Bob Weir Band played somewhere on Friday, February 24, the second known date was Saturday, February 25 in Chicago. In fact, the Grateful Dead had just played three nights at The Uptown Theater in Chicago a few weeks earlier, but Chicago is a huge city so there were plenty of potential fans. The Riviera was at 4715 N. Broadway, not far from the Uptown. It was built in 1915, with a capacity of 2500

If normal record company practices were followed, and I'm sure they were, Arista Records would have invited every disc jockey, program director (AM and FM) and rock critic in town to the show, and plied them with free drinks. 

February 26, 1978: BJ's Concert Hall, Mt. Clemens, MI: Bob Weir Band/Doucette
Mt. Clemens, Michigan was a suburb about a half hour North of Detroit. A Sunday night show in Mt. Clemens would likely have been a little more about making some money than a high profile show. That isn't to say that many Detroit DJs and PDs would not have been invited, I just don't know whether or not they were likely to go to Mt. Clemens.

One thing about a suburban show was that many younger people who might not be able to or allowed to go to big, bad Detroit for a rock show would have been able to see the Bob Weir Band in the suburbs. In the Bay Area or the Northeast, Garcia Band or Kingfish shows had been common enough, but if you were a Deadhead in suburban Michigan in 1978 in the Winter, you were probably pleased when any member of the band showed up.

February 28, 1978: Bogart's Cincinnati, OH: Bob Weir Band/Doucette (early and late shows)
Ohio has quite a rocking history, and indeed the Grateful Dead themselves had some history in Cincinnati. Bogart's, which is still open, is at 2621 Vine Street. It was built in 1890 with a capacity of about 1500. I suspect this Tuesday night show as also a sort of "showcase," with all the jocks from the likes of WKRP (and Loni Anderson, I'm sure) invited. The fact that there were early and late shows suggests that the club expected a fair turnout, but perhaps the two-show format was standard.


  1. And THIS is why I love your posts so much. I have all of these dates written down on a piece of paper somewhere, but it is so nice to have someone "connect the dots" and provide such a nice narrative framework to put it all into context. Many thanks!

  2. "I also think that not too many bands came through Madison in the Winter,"
    Not so fast! Dane County Coliseum was a destination for big rock acts in 1978... Foghat, Dr. Hook, Willie Nelson and REO Speedwagon all played there within days (or a few weeks) of the Dead in 1978. Later in 1978 Bruce Springstein and Queen would play there in June and again in Nov/Dec. Within a few weeks in Nov. of 1978 Bruce, Aerosmith, Bob Dylan, the Moody Blues and Queen ALL played at Dane County Coliseum.

  3. Ted, thanks. I stand corrected. In general, rock bands tended not to play the cold states during the cold months, but I guess by 1978 things had evolved, in Madison at least. I note that the Winter bands were mostly road dogs like the Dead: Foghat, Willie and REO were always on tour (not so sure about Dr. Hook).

    Now, the summer and fall shows don't surprise me, given that it was a big University town, but its interesting to hear that Madison got its share in the Winter as well.

  4. I hadn't thought of Cats Under the Stars as the turning-point, but it's very true that up til the late '70s Garcia was perfectly happy to spend hours & hours in the studio working on projects, from Aoxomoxoa to the Dead Movie to Cats. It's safe to say that after 1980, very much the reverse was true.

    I think I see it as more of an extended sinking-in that album success (a "hit record") was just not going to happen, after numerous attempts. The Dead went through 3 different producers in the late '70s trying to hit the right formula - Mickey Hart later summed it up well: "That music is not what I call Grateful Dead. It was produced by twits and plumbers; it was a shame and a travesty."

    It's also possible that as Garcia got older, he just got tired of being in the studio working on albums. The success of In the Dark didn't exactly inspire the Dead to devote their time to more album followups. By the '90s Garcia couldn't bear to do any studio work except with Grisman (which was much less intensive). It was, in short, not fun anymore to submit himself to that discipline.

    There are a couple other things to consider as well. At just what point did the Dead's live earnings make record sales irrelevant? It must have happened already well before 1987, and I'm wondering if it happened before 1980. (Paradoxically, the Dead might have done financially better if they'd released no albums in the late '70s - it worked in the '80s!)
    At least by the '80s, the Dead decided it made more sense to just add a few shows (or bigger venues) to the tour rather than spend more time in the studio.

    (Just looking in terms of number of shows per year, there's a turning-point in the early '80s: over 80 shows in '80 and '81, which then drops to 60-some in '82-84. The Dead did not want to tour TOO much! Interestingly, the volume of Garcia Band shows peaks in '81-83; but that band had never been tied to record sales.)

    Also, somewhere around that time I assume Garcia's self-narcoticization put a big brake on his ambitions.

  5. Weir played the st. Paul Civic Center Theatre in '78... Not Met Center. Good show in a small theatre, which I taped...