Thursday, April 3, 2014

March 18, 1973 Felt Forum, New York, NY: New Riders Of The Purple Sage & Special Friends (FM VI and 1/2)

The Village Voice ad from February 15, 1973 for the March 18 NRPS show at the Felt Forum
(this is a modified version of an earlier post)

On March 18, 1973, the New Riders Of The Purple Sage played The Felt Forum, the auditorium in the basement of Madison Square Garden. The show was broadcast in its entirety on WNEW-fm, New York City's leading rock station. Besides being a fine broadcast of the New Riders in their prime, the show featured numerous special guests. Ramblin' Jack Elliott and Donna Godchaux helped out on vocals on different songs, Jerry Garcia played electric guitar and banjo on a few numbers, Bob Weir sang a couple, and Keith Godchaux played grand piano for much of the show. The most memorable part of the performance, however, was when Garcia, Weir and Godchaux joined the New Riders and began the second set with a trio of gospel numbers: "Cold Jordan", "I Hear A Voice Calling" and "Swing Low". Garcia played banjo and Weir played acoustic guitar, the only instance of the two playing acoustic together on the East Coast between 1970 and 1980.

The Grateful Dead were playing three nights at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale in Long Island, but for whatever reasons (probably the New York Islanders) they were booked for March 15, 16 and 19 (Thursday, Friday and Monday), so they had the Sunday night off to hang out with the New Riders. It's remarkable enough that the Dead guested on a radio broadcast, but thanks to the great Its All The Streets You Crossed blog, we can now see that the Grateful Dead were all but advertised in the Village Voice. The ad above is from the February 22, 1973 edition of the Voice, a full month before the show, and the ad says "New Riders Of The Purple Sage & Special Friends." The message would be unmistakable: in 70s rock talk, "Special Guests" would have meant 'opening act who hasn't been booked yet', but "Special Friends" would imply extra people on stage. It wouldn't take a genius to note the Dead's performance dates on Long Island and see that they had the night off.

There were plenty of live FM performances in the 1970s, but relatively few of them featured guests, as the record company was paying for the band to be on the air. The economics of 70s FM broadcasts depended on some entity, usually a record company, buying up the ad time that was "lost" during the time the band was playing live on the air without commercials. Generally speaking, if a record company paid for their band to be broadcast live on FM radio, they did not want their sponsored act upstaged by friends, however talented, when the purpose of the financial subvention was to promote the company's act. Columbia Records, the New Riders label, would have paid good money to make sure that the New Riders were broadcast live for some hours on the biggest New York rock station. As a practical matter, I suspect that Columbia agreed to purchase a substantial number of ads through the month of March, rather than laid out cash per se, but the net effect would have been the same.

In the case of the Dead, however, since they were bigger than the New Riders and had a unique relationship to them, Columbia would have been ecstatic to have the Dead join the New Riders on the FM broadcast throughout the entire Tri-State area. For the Dead, the significant factor here was that by Spring 1973 they had left Warner Brothers and were working for themselves, so they didn't have to concern themselves with whether their own record company "approved" of them appearing with their friends. In early 1973, Grateful Dead co-manager Jon McIntire (reputedly "Uncle John" himself) was the manager for the New Riders Of The Purple Sage. Both the Dead and the New Riders were booked by Out Of Town Tours, Sam Cutler's agency, so coordination would have been easy.

In fact, as an indication of the clout of the Dead in this context, not only were the New Riders broadcast in their entirety, but the set of opening act Ramblin' Jack Elliott was broadcast as well. At the time, Elliott, though a legend, did not have a label and had not released an album in three years (his last album had been released in 1970 on Reprise). However, Elliott was also booked by Sam Cutler, and clearly the presence of Jerry Garcia was enough to induce Columbia to subsidize the broadcast of Ramblin' Jack's set as well as that of the Riders.

However, since the Dead were performing elsewhere, their contract with the Nassau promoter, whom I believe was Bill Graham, would have prevented them from being mentioned by name. Also, since the name "Grateful Dead" was not formally invoked, the band members could show up and perform on whichever or whatever songs they felt like. Knowing what we know today, Garcia must have had his banjo with him because he was probably practicing constantly, trying to get up to speed for Old And In The Way, which had just begun to play in the Bay Area. It's a great touch that he used it to perform with the Riders--I think March 18, 1973 was almost the only time he played banjo on stage with them (Garcia did play banjo briefly at a unique show at The Matrix on July 7, 1970). Besides the mini-acoustic set, Garcia played banjo on "Henry" as well as electric guitar on "Glendale Train," obviously just having the kind of fun he couldn't have if the marquee had said "tonight: NRPS with Jerry Garcia."
The Village Voice ad from February 15, 1973 for upcoming Capitol Theater shows
Pity poor John Scher. In New York at the time, Ron Delsener promoted shows North of the Hudson River (New York City proper) and John Scher generally promoted shows South of it (in New Jersey). Scher's principal venue was the Capitol Theater in Passaic, NJ. Scher had booked the New Riders at the Capitol for Friday, March 23, 1973, five days after the Felt Forum show. The New York City (Tri-State) metro area is so large that the Passaic show would have drawn a different crowd than the Felt Forum show, even though they were only 20 miles away from each other.

The Grateful Dead had been booked for March 15, 16 and 19 at the Nassau Coliseum. Their scheduled opening act was their Marin County compatriots The Sons Of Champlin, who had recently released an album on Columbia as well (the great Welcome To The Dance). However, after the first night, the Sons found out that the entire family of bassist David Schallock had been murdered, in a terrible tragedy. The Sons all rushed home. Who filled in as the Dead's opening act? Well, apparently the New Riders played with the Dead the other two nights (there's even a tape of March 19).

However, with the Dead having made a surprise guest appearance at the Felt Forum show, and the Riders opening for the Dead, the buzz would have been in the air, so everybody in New Jersey must have assumed that the Dead were going to drop in at Passaic, too. Never mind if that's a rational judgment: I guarantee you everybody standing in line for the show that night had heard about New York (probably in a greatly exaggerated fashion) and was fully expecting Jerry and the boys to make an appearance. Anyone on the Deadheads mailing list could have seen that the Dead were booked for Utica on March 22 and the Spectrum March 24, so it would have seemed perfectly plausible.

The 1973 New Riders were a great live band, and I'm sure they put on a terrific show at the Capitol, but the audience was probably still let down. It must have been tough for the Riders to rock through their best songs while a crowd of Jersey Deadheads (plus some Philadelphia lunatics, of course) shouted "Jerrrry!"