Thursday, May 1, 2014

September 21, 1968 Pacific Recording, San Mateo, CA ("Jam with Vic and David")

Eric Burdon And The Animals on stage at the Windsor Jazz and Blues Festival on August 11, 1967. (L-R), John Weider (guitar), Vic Briggs (guitar ) and Burdon.
Grateful Dead history is a sprawling beast, and the internet contributes to that sprawl. Mining message boards and Comment threads often turns up all sorts of fascinating information, but the fragmentary nature of the communication makes it hard to gather that knowledge coherently. Patience is a virtue, however, particularly in archaeology, because digging slowly and carefully reveals sights unseen.

Back in 2007, David Lemieux posted a fragment of tape on of a jam at Pacific Recording in San Mateo on September 21, 1968. in Fall '68, the Grateful Dead were just beginning the recording of what would become Aoxomoxoa, and Bob Weir and Pigpen were possibly not going on with the band. In 2012, a scant five years later, on a Deadlists post, I found out that there were two other guitar players on one of the tracks. David Lemieux said that they were listed as "David and Vic." We all assumed that the "David" was David Nelson, who had recently admitted that he had been invited to jam with the Dead-minus-Bob Weir around that time. But who was "Vic?" David Gans asked Nelson, who had no idea. There was another problem, too: Gans played the tape for Nelson, who said it wasn't his playing. Never mind who was Vic--who was David?

It's better to be lucky than good. I was pretty sure I knew who Vic was, and I was right. The 'Vic" on the tape was Vic Briggs, who at the time had just left his post as lead guitarist for Eric Burdon And The Animals. Thanks to our extensive history of the second, psychedelic Eric Burdon And The Animals from 1966 to 1968, I was in touch with Briggs, who has an extraordinary memory. Briggs not only confirmed the event, he remembered the other guitarist. This post will discuss the context of the September 21, 1968 jam at Pacific Recording with Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann, Vic Briggs and David Crosby.

The Grateful Dead, Fall 1968
Somewhere around September of 1968, the Grateful Dead had the infamous meeting in which Bob Weir and Pigpen were either threatened with being fired or actually fired, depending on what version you believe. Garcia and Lesh, apparently, felt that Weir and Pigpen's musical abilities had not grown as quickly as the other four band members, and that maybe the band would be better off without them. Pigpen's opinion was never directly known, but according to McNally, by October Weir basically considered himself fired.

However, the perpetually broke state of the Grateful Dead meant that the band continued to play shows with Weir and Pigpen, since they had no other meaningful source of income. Supposedly, the Dead had signed some contracts that required six musicians to be present, but in any case, Weir and Pigpen still played the late 1968 shows. By the end of the year, Weir seemed to have stepped up his game, and Tom Constanten had mustered out of the Air Force, allowing him to take permanent command of the keyboards. No meeting ever memorialized the changed status--Weir and Pigpen seemed to have simply figured out that they weren't going anywhere. The fact that Garcia, Lesh, Hart and Kreutzmann played occasional gigs at The Matrix as Mickey Hart And The Hartbeats also seemed to have fulfilled their own need to play certain kinds of unstructured music.

However, it's hard not to draw the conclusion that during the Fall '68 period, Garcia and Lesh were at least thinking about other musicians to replace Weir and/or Pigpen, and indeed Tom Constanten did take over the organ slot. Elvin Bishop was not aligned to a group in 1968, and he jammed some with the Hartbeats, and Jerry and Phil must have at least thought about him. David Gans confirmed with David Nelson that Nelson was invited to jam at Pacific Recording without Weir, probably in December, a pretty clear sign that the band hadn't made up it's mind. According to Nelson, the first song they played was "The Eleven," another sign to me that the "jam" was an audition, not just a goof.

Bob Matthews had started working at Pacific Recording in San Mateo in the Summer of '68, assisted by Betty Cantor. Mostly they recorded demos of unsigned song writers, including one session by John Dawson. By Fall, the Dead were ready to start recording their next album. On Friday, September 20, the Dead played Berkeley Community Theater, and on Sunday September 22, 1968, they played the Del Mar Fairgrounds near San Diego. The fact that the Dead not only went to the studio on the intervening Saturday night, but brought in two unaffiliated guitar player friends from out of town seems to be a pretty clear sign that Bob Weir was right to think his status in the band was shaky indeed.

Vic Briggs (in the hat) letting it rip on "Monterey" as Eric Burdon and The Animals play a Berlin television show in 1968

Eric Burdon And The Animals, 1966-1968
Vic Briggs had been one of two lead guitarists in the psychedelic configuration of Eric Burdon And The Animals, which ran from November 1966 through the end of 1968. The Animals had been a hugely popular "British Invasion" band from 1963 through 1966, but on one of their last tours, lead singer Eric Burdon had taken a day off in San Francisco (around August 9, 1966). Burdon experienced that rarest of events, a "warm San Franciscan night," and visited the Fillmore and Avalon, and it changed his music and life. Burdon, still a big star, reconstituted the Animals as a jamming psychedelic blues band.

I will refrain from telling the entire story of the second Animals (though you can read it all here), but guitarist Vic Briggs joined the group in November of 1966. The band's first American tour began in February of 1967. Although fans knew about Burdon from the "old" Animals, the new group's live sound was closer to Quicksilver Messenger Service, but with a dynamic lead singer. Briggs' jazzy approach to the guitar contrasted nicely with the bluesier approach of fellow guitarist John Weider (bassist Danny McCulloch and drummer Barry Jenkins filled out the group). Although live tapes are scarce, all the evidence suggests they were  a tremendous band. To the extent that the Animals sounded like Quicksilver, it was somewhat coincidental, since only Burdon had been to San Franciscos, and the Animals had ended up with their sound by their own path.

Needless to say, Eric Burdon and The Animals were a big hit in San Francisco. On March 26, 1967, the Dead were playing the Avalon, and The Animals--who at the time were much bigger stars--dropped by the show and played some songs as a guest act. This was where Vic Briggs first met the Dead. The Animals also played the Monterey Pop Festival in June of 1967. The band was very popular, and hugely popular in San Francisco. Although Burdon's lyrics sound dated now, the group had big hits, with "When I Was Young," "San Franciscan Nights, " "Monterey" and "Sky Pilot." Briggs took the swinging electric sitar solo on "Monterey," which he played on guitar when the band played live.

The second Animals had a great run, but they were beset by management and financial issues, and Eric Burdon could be a difficult bandleader. Briggs left the group in July 1968, on fairly amicable terms. Even though the entire band had relocated to Los Angeles, the Animals' guitar post was turned over to another old English pal, Andy Somers, today better known as Andy Summers, and famous as one-third of The Police. Eric Burdon And The Animals soldiered on until the end of 1968, while Briggs chose to become an independent producer in Los Angeles. When the Grateful Dead invited Briggs up to the Bay Area to jam in September 1968, Briggs was unaffiliated with any group.

David Crosby, Fall 1968
David Crosby's story is known to most rock fans, so I won't detail it. The famous party at Joni Mitchell's house where Graham Nash sang a third harmony part for Crosby and Stephen Stills (on the song "You Don't Have To Cry") took place in July 1968. By August 1968, Nash had left The Hollies and soon relocated to Los Angeles. By September 1968, Crosby, Stills and Nash were working together and plotting world domination. However, from the point of view of the Grateful Dead, who were long-standing friends, Crosby was another guy without a band. He had left The Byrds at the end of 1967, and had hardly recorded or performed since. Even if the Dead knew about Crosby's collaborators, it would hardly have seemed set in stone yet.

It's hard not to draw the conclusion that the Dead, or at least Garcia and Lesh, were shopping for new bandmembers. There had been a meeting where Weir and Pigpen were at least threatened with being fired, even if it was financially unviable, and the Dead were about to record their third album. Why invite two guitarists from Los Angeles up to the Bay Area, if the Dead weren't at least considering their options?

The 1969 Capitol/EMI album Wings Of A Man, by former Animals bassist Danny McCulloch, produced by Vic Briggs
Antion Meredith (Vic Briggs)
Fortunately, as a result of having worked extensively on the history of Eric Burdon And The Animals, I had been in touch with Vic Briggs. In this century, Briggs uses the name Antion Meredith and lives in New Zealand. The Vic Briggs story of being a musician in the 60s is a great one, but his life is, if anything, even more interesting after that, but you'll have to read about it yourself (and it's well worth the time).

Fortunately, Antion's memory is spectacularly good and his stories are always engaging, making him an ideal contact for a rock prosopographer. Thanks to the miracle of email, I found out quickly that I was right--Vic Briggs was the guest jammer.

(personal email from me to Antion Meredith)
It seems there is a tape in the Grateful Dead vault dated September 21, 1968 (a Saturday), and the tape is marked "jam with David and Vic." At the time, the Dead were thinking of firing Bob Weir and Pigpen (band politics) and fooling around with others. The 'David' was future NRPS guitarist and old Garcia pal David Nelson. However, other people, including the Dead's archivist [David Lemieux] said "I have no idea who the 'Vic' might be." Well, hey, I've got an idea who the Vic might have been...

Any chance you skipped out to Pacific Recording in San Mateo (near SF) in September '68 to jam with Garcia and the boys (not Weir) on "The Eleven" and other difficult stuff? Any chance they offered you the gig?

(personal email from Antion Meredith to me)
Lot of energy around this week.  On Tuesday I did an interview on
national TV here in NZ:

And today this print interview hit the internet:

And now you write to me about that jam session.  I’m going to to tell you as much as I can remember about it.  For some reason I have barely talked to anyone about it in the last 45 years; probably because no one ever asked me.

We first met the Dead at that one off gig we did at the Avalon Ballroom in April of 1967 [sic-March 26, 1967].    I really hit it off with Bill Kruetzman and Phil Lesh who were sharing an apartment with their ladies in Haight-Ashbury a few blocks from the Dead House. (This meant that they never got busted along with the rest of the Dead when the cops raided the Dead House, but that’s another story).

After the Monterey Festival I went to stay with them when we played the Fillmore [June 27-July 2, 1967].  I flew back to LA for us to play the Whiskey [July 6-8] and then John Weider and I flew back to SFO to spend two weeks just hanging in the land of Hippiedom.  This was all in 1967.

Later, in the fall [October 19-21], we were back in the Bay Area.  I stayed with Bill and Phil again.  I also met Mickey for the first time.  He had joined the band since I had last been there.

I cannot remember how it came about but yes, I did find myself down at the San Mateo studios with Jerry and we played together.  I cannot remember who else played except for one person and this may surprise you.  If indeed this was the same tape (there may be a problem with dates, as I’ll explain in a minute), the David referred to is none other than David Crosby.

That’s right, one and the same, of the Byrds and later Crosby, Stills and Nash.  I have no idea what David was doing there but I am 100% certain he was there.  He didn’t play any lead, he left that to Jerry and me.  I do not remember who played bass, drums or anything else.

This was the only time that Jerry and I played together.  In retrospect I don’t remember why I never jammed with the Dead. I was around for some of their rehearsals at the Marin Heliport during the summer of 67 but I do not recall ever jamming with them except on this one occasion.  And, as I said, I can’t even remember if any more of them were there playing with Jerry, David and I.

A friend of mine who was also close to Jerry once asked him about me and my playing.  Jerry said to him “You know, I’ll tell you one thing about Vic.  When we played together, everywhere I went, there he was, right there with me.”

I certainly took this as a compliment because, in those days, there were not many guitarists’ who could keep up with Jerry.

That’s as much as I remember.  Now, here’s the problem.  Looking at your site and the dates on it, I would say that this event happened on Saturday October 21st 1967.

I remember a couple of days after we finished our Fillmore gig [October 19-21, 1967], flying to LA with Mickey Hart.  The Dead were heading for LA, I think to record.  That was when they rented that big mansion house which later became notorious.  It is shown in Lisa Law’s Flashing on the Sixties book [note: Pacific Recording was not open in 1967, so the date has to be September 1968, not October 1967].

I’m not 100% certain and my mind was starting to get pretty addled at the time, so it is quite possible that I confused this with 1968.  In October of 68 I was by then an independent producer/arranger in LA and it is certainly possible that I was up in the Bay Area for a visit.

Anyway, here’s what I know for sure.
  • I jammed with Jerry at the San Mateo studio.
  • David Crosby was there, also playing.
  • It was a Saturday (I have this funny talent for remembering the energy
    of different days of the week and associating them with events that
    happened on that day). So it may be that my memory is off and this actually happened in 1968.
  • However, no one ever said anything to me about maybe joining the Dead.
One day I’ll tell you how Jerry and I met up again at Bill Walton’s house in San Diego in 1989 and how I was inspired to buy the first guitar I had owned since 1970.
September 21, 1968
Although Vic Briggs was our only eyewitness to the September 21, 1968 jam, there was nothing casual about the event. The Grateful Dead had gigs on a Friday and a Sunday, and the Sunday gig was out of town, and yet they invited two friends over for a jam, with two other players missing. Both of the players were Los Angeles musicians, too. Now, it's possible that both of them had reasons to be in town, which Vic alludes to, but it still had to be planned and organized.

Pacific Recording is in San Mateo, on the South Bay Peninsula, between Palo Alto and San Francisco. It's not near anything, and LA rock musicians do not "hang out" in San Mateo. The Dead themselves were based in Novato at this time, an hour to the North, so it wasn't really convenient for them, either. I would note, however, that San Mateo was only a few minutes from San Francisco Airport, so if either of their guests were flying into or out of SFO, Pacific Recording would have been extremely convenient.

Maybe it was just for fun. Maybe the players were in town, and Garcia and the Hartbeats were having a jam without Weir and Pig, and invited them over. No one asked Vic to join the band, so at the most any plans were somewhat unspoken. Still, it happened. Members of the Grateful Dead invited some guitar player friends to the studio and the thought of another version of the Grateful Dead had to at least have crossed Jerry's mind, if not Phil's. We are fortunate to have the very slightest trace as to what they might have been thinking, just for the evening of September 21, 1968.