Thursday, July 2, 2015

Jerry Garcia, The Top Of The Tangent, 117 University Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 1963-64 (Lost And Found)

Very likely the first ad for Jerry Garcia by name in any publication. Newly married Jerry and Sara Garcia open for Mike Cooney at The Top Of The Tangent on Friday and Saturday, May 3 and 4, 1963. From the Stanford Daily, Friday, May 3, 1963
In January 1961, Jerry Garcia was booted out of the US Army and relocated to the Palo Alto area. He hung out with various ne'er-do-wells, and after a while Garcia fell in with Robert Hunter, David Nelson and a few others. They were aspiring folk musicians, but there were hardly any places to play beyond the Stanford campus. By 1962 there were a few places on the Peninsula, but still none in Palo Alto. This changed in January 1963, when two bored doctors started to run a weekly folk club at a deli at 117 University Avenue called The Tangent. The music was presented in a room above the restaurant. The Top Of The Tangent held about 75 people, and they had shows on Friday and Saturday, along with a "Hoot Night" on Wednesdays. Jerry Garcia and his fellow aspiring Peninsula Folkies had a headquarters, and thus The Top Of The Tangent looms large in Grateful Dead history.

Early performances at The Top Of The Tangent have regularly been described in interviews by Jerry Garcia and others since the earliest days. Remarkably enough, relatively soon after trading Grateful Dead tapes became widespread, a few tapes of Garcia's aggregations playing at The Tangent turned up as well. Nonetheless, although the importance of The Top Of The Tangent was widely known, the venue itself remains clouded in myth.  Stanford University is Stanford, however, and while they digitized the archives of the student newspaper some years ago, it appears they have been recently upgraded. Suddenly the story of Jerry Garcia at The Top Of The Tangent comes into clearer focus. This post will take our newly-found information about Jerry Garcia and his friends at the Tangent and try and link it to other threads in Grateful Dead history.

The first ad in the Stanford Daily for The Top Of The Tangent, at 117 University, in the Friday, January 25, 1963 edition. "The Circle" was right across from the train station, and all locals and students would have recognized the location. Although The Tangent itself, a deli and later a pizza parlor, had been open for some time, the upstairs room had only opened as folk club that month.

Palo Alto, Stanford and Folk Music In The Early 60s
The city of Palo Alto was founded in 1875 on empty land to accommodate the forthcoming Stanford University, and the city and the campus have been intricately connected since the University opened in 1892. It is ironic, then, that downtown Palo Alto was quite far from the center of campus, and all but the sturdiest of undergraduates could not walk from school to the downtown area. As a result, by the mid-20th century, Palo Alto's downtown was far less of a university town than cities like Berkeley, Princeton or Chapel Hill.

However, one of the world's first shopping malls, the Stanford Shopping Center, had opened in 1955, triangulated between the Stanford campus and the downtowns of Palo Alto and Menlo Park. Businesses in downtown Palo Alto had suffered, and rents were cheap, so at least there was room for new ventures. McNally tells the story:
[Top Of] The Tangent started as an amusement for two bored young doctors, but it became, for two years, the home of folk music on the Peninsula. Stu Goldstein and David Schoenstadt were Stanford Hospital residents who knew nothing about folk music, but Max and Bertha Feldman's Palo Alto deli had a room upstairs, and it occurred to Stu and David to open a club there, using Pete Seeger's songbook, How To Make A Hootenanny, as their blueprint. They opened in January 1963, with open hoots on Wednesdays, and the winners playing weekends. The charge was a dollar fifty, and the performers got five or ten dollars. It quickly became Garcia's new musical home, [Garcia:], "a little community...a sweet scene." [p47]
In the early 60s, folk music appealed to college students. It's true, some non-college students liked folk music, too, but even those tended to be the sort of kids who were smart enough to consider college, but weren't particularly academically oriented. As far as commercial propositions went, then, if you were trying to make a dollar off folk music, there had to be college students nearby. So it's no surprise that the doctors chose a place that was at the end of University Avenue that was nearest to Stanford University. 117 University, at "The Circle," was at the foot of University Avenue, downtown Palo Alto's main street, and right across from the Southern Pacific Train Station.

The train station wasn't irrelevant either. Stanford, of course, had been founded by SP railroad magnate Leland Stanford, and the Palo Alto train station had been built to accommodate the university. Stanford students were always allowed to ride the SP trains for free, so Stanford always had a distinctly San Francisco orientation, since the students could get there so easily (to my knowledge, although the corporate parent of the SP Railroad was swallowed up sometime ago by the DRGW, Stanford students still ride the local trains [CalTrain] for free). The fact that the Tangent was in easy walking distance to the train station made it uniquely attractive to Stanford students.

The Stanford Daily was the campus newspaper. Since Stanford's central campus was at least a mile from downtown, the Daily was probably a primary source of information for the students. The Palo Alto Times was the town's daily paper, but it was a fairly stuffy publication, pretty good with state and national news but not exactly forward looking. It wouldn't have appealed to students, who had little contact with the town of Palo Alto anyway. The reputation of Stanford students, rightly or wrongly, was that they all preferred to go to San Francisco. Leaving aside how many of them had access to cars, if you were a student who was going to walk a mile to downtown Palo Alto, and you could stop halfway, at the train station, and go to San Francisco for free, what would you do?

The Daily appeared five days a week during the schoolyear, and one day a week when school was out. There was a certain amount of general news, mostly of the sort interesting to college students, and plenty of Stanford sports and reviews and previews of local events. The Daily was available on campus, and possibly a little bit around Palo Alto, but it was the best way to let Stanford students know what was up. So it's no surprise that Top Of The Tangent had a regular Friday advertisement, and that the Friday performance listings regularly described upcoming Tangent shows.

The Westport Singers, with Butch Waller and Herb Pedersen, and Janice Joplin, seem to have been the first performers advertised by name at the Top Of The Tangent, in the April 5, 1963 Stanford Daily
Jerry Garcia's official debut at Top Of The Tangent appears to have been on February 22, 1963, with The Wildwood Boys. I assume that The Wildwood Boys had demonstrated their prowess at an earlier Wednesday hoot night, but since we have tapes from both Friday (Feb 22) and Saturday (Feb 23), they appear to have been booked for the weekend. On the first night, the Wildwood Boys were just Garcia, Hunter and Nelson, but on Saturday, they were joined (more likely rejoined) by bassist Norm Van Maastricht. There was no Friday edition of the Stanford Daily, because school was closed for Winter break. In any case, up until April, the ads for Top Of The Tangent just advertised  "Folk Singing." The first ad I found with performers' names was on April 5, 1963.

Presciently enough, the performers on the weekend of April 5 and 6 were The Westport Singers and one Janice Joplin. Both acts had probably succeeded at hoot night, since they were otherwise unknown. The Westport Singers, who I think played a kind of old-timey/bluegrass hybrid, were from the Berkeley area. Banjo player Herb Pedersen was the hot young player in Berkeley, and when he first met Garcia, Palo Alto's hot banjo-man, they apparently circled each other like wary gunfighters. They soon became friends, however, and Pedersen ended up joining Old And In The Way when it reformed after 1995. As for Butch Waller, still the leader of the great bluegrass band High Country, his place in Grateful Dead history was assured on May 1, 1965, when he joined in on Jerry Garcia's first acid trip.

And as for blues singer Janice Joplin, from Port Arthur, TX, her most famous appearance at the Tangent was the time she didn't show up, per McNally. It may have been this occasion. When she didn't make it, her accompanist, guitarist Jerry Kaukonen, allowed that he could play a little blues. It turned out that, indeed, he could, and he became a regular at Top Of The Tangent himself.

The Top Of The Tangent did not advertise every single Friday in the Daily, but they seem to have had an ad most of the time. As you can see, the layout and size of the ad were always identical, and the text of the performers would change each week. This was typical of the way repeat advertising was handled by newspapers at the time. Given the ancient nature of these performances, what seems remarkable at a distance is that actually we have tapes of any Jerry Garcia performances at the Tangent, much less several of them. Reading the Daily, however, the explanation becomes clear: in 1963 and 1964, everyone who played weekends at The Tangent was probably broadcast on the radio.

Stanford had its own radio station, KZSU, broadcasting  on 880-am. FM broadcasts on KZSU began in the spring of 1964, with the commercials deleted, from a 10-watt transmitter on 90.1 fm (and still are today, although with 500 watts). However, KZSU-am was only audible in the Stanford dorms. Still, in the early 60s, KZSU-am probably got a good hearing on campus, as most students lived in those dorms. The Daily posted the nightly KZSU schedule, and there was a regular folk music show at 9:00pm on Friday nights, called The Flinthill Special, sponsored and run by The Top Of The Tangent. Throughout  1963 and '64, the 9:00pm Flinthill Special folk show was advertised as live music from the Top Of The Tangent. I doubt it was truly live--my assumption is that the shows were taped each week, and highlights were broadcast the next week--but it meant that Stanford students got a taste of live folk music every week.

In 1963, the host of the live folk show from the Tangent was Ted Clare, and in 1964 it was Phil DeGuere. Ted Claire was a Stanford student who was friends with Rodney Albin and others. He was a sometime member of The Liberty Hill Aristocrats, the old-timey band with Rodney and his brother Peter, and a decade later he was still playing with Rodney in a band called Roadhog, who were ultimately joined by Robert Hunter in 1974. So one host of the Friday night show was definitely a fellow traveler. Philip DeGuere, of course, besides being the producer of Simon & Simon and many other hit TV shows, was also the co-director of the legendary Sunshine Daydream movie, filmed in Veneta, OR on August 27, 1972. So both of the hosts of the KZSU show must have facilitated a few welcome tape transfers.

Naturally, anyone reading this will immediately think "hey! Are the tapes still at KZSU?" The answer is probably, yes, I expect that the tapes are still there, but they have something else on them. Tape was expensive in those days, and tape recorders exotic, so tape was probably re-used over and over again. Since I only know of Garcia tapes having survived the Tangent, I think Mr. Clare and Mr. De Guere (and producer Pete Wanger, about whom more later) are the most likely culprits, and we thank them for that.

Jerry and Sara Garcia got married on April 25, 1963, and took a honeymoon trip to Yosemite National Park. Just two weeks later, they were opening the weekend's show at Top Of The Tangent. We are fortunate to have a tape of some of it. I expect the source was ultimately KZSU, since the penniless Garcias could not have afforded either a tape or a tape deck. The May 5, 1963 Stanford Daily ad that shows "Jerry and Sara" opening for Mike Cooney (the ad is up top) is probably the first time Jerry's name--any of it--was published in an ad as a performer.

The 1963 Monterey Folk Festival
One of the crossroads of pre-Grateful Dead history was the 1963 Monterey Folk Festival, held on the weekend of May 17-19. The series of relatively large ads in the Stanford Daily indicate that college students were a primary target for the festival. The most popular act, in fact, was probably the Friday night headliners, the trio of Peter, Paul and Mary. Today, however, the resonant booking is on Saturday night, with The Weavers, Bob Dylan and The New Lost City Ramblers.

The infamous story of the Monterey Folk Festival was that the Saturday afternoon event, listed here as "Folk Talent Show." According to McNally, The Hart Valley Drifters (Garcia, Nelson, Hunter on bass and Ken Frankel on mandolin) won Best Amateur Group. There was also a banjo and fiddle contest, a staple of bluegrass festivals. Bluegrass is fast-paced, difficult music, and there is a gunslinging element to playing it well. Similar to a "cutting contest" in jazz, the best players like to show off their chops. At a high profile event like this, everybody's six guns were ready for shootin'.

The story, detailed by Blair Jackson, was that the ultra-competitive Jerry Garcia came in second. Worse, for Jerry, was that he came in second to a frailer, the same Mike Cooney that Jerry had opened for two weeks earlier at the Tangent. Frailing is "old-timey" banjo, tasteful but not nearly as difficult as the three-finger style pioneered by Earl Scruggs in Bill Monroe's band. For a three-finger picker like Jerry to lose to a frailer on a judge's decision had to seriously rankle. The "outtakes" to Blair Jackson's books include some dismayed comments from judge Rodney Dillard (an excellent bluegrass musician himself), cranky that he still had to defend his decision 35 years later. 

Garcia's disappointment aside, there was plenty of great artists at the festival that directly or indirectly influenced Garcia and the Dead over the years, such as Doc Watson, Mike Seeger and Lightnin' Hopkins (on Saturday afternoon, the "Country Boys" were actually the White Brothers, with Clarence White). However, the road not taken was described by McNally, as Garcia recalls leaving before Dylan had even finished his set. Hunter says the sound was lousy, and perhaps it was, but Garcia was a purist, too, and not interested yet in "new music." Neither Garcia nor Hunter had really heard or heard of Dylan at this time.

The Black Mountain Boys, with Jerry Garcia, David Nelson, either Eric Thompson or Sandy Rothman and an uncertain bassist (possibly Norm Van Maastricht), played Top Of The Tangent on February 7 and 8, 1964
By early 1964, Garcia's bluegrass band had evolved. Hunter had been unceremoniously fired, if "not being told that you weren't in the band when you came to rehearsal" counts as fired, and he had moved to Los Angeles. On board was Eric Thompson and/or Sandy Rothman, depending on availability. Bluegrass bands didn't make any money, so it was hard to make gigs, not least since both Eric and Sandy were actually based in Berkeley. On February 7 and 8, 1964, the Black Mountain Boys were headlining the Top Of The Tangent (along with "the blues of Kellery Powers"). Tickets were $1.25. There were shows at 9, 10:30 and 12:00. The assumption here seems to be that college kids would drop in on a date, or to hang out, stay for an hour and move on.

The Black Mountain Boys and Jerry Kaukonen are at the Tangent on March 6 and 7, and Jesse Fuller was at The Offstage. From the March 6, 1964, Stanford Daily.
A month later, the Black Mountain Boys headlined at Top Of The Tangent on March 6 an 7, 1964. This time, they were joined by "folk artist Jerry Kaukonen." We know Eric Thompson was in the band at this time, because he seems to have been responsible for the tapes that exist. Both Eric and Sandy are referenced on the extant tapes. However, its important to remember that bluegrass bands weren't rock bands, and performer could casually step on and off stage as they saw fit. Early 60s folk and bluegrass groups did not have nearly the fixed lineups that were engendered by electric groups such as The Beatles. With amplifiers and trap drums, a band had to be organized; with just one mic at the Tangent, and a tiny room, anyone good enough could be invited on stage, assuming they had brought their axe.

Mothe McRee's Jug Band opens for Ken Carter, on May 1 and 2, 1964, at the Top Of The Tangent in Palo Alto. The Stanford Daily ad (from May 1 '64) says "Minors Welcome," which implird a change in poicy

Sometime in early 1964, the Tangent had closed for a while for remodeling. When it reopened, they had pizza, at the time a fairly exotic food. Notice that the May 1, 1964 Daily ad now says "Folk Music and Pizza." In April, 1964, Jerry Garcia had let the Black Mountain Boys lapse, since they had no gigs. Garcia played the occasional bluegrass gig when he could find one, but there was no money in it and very few players of Garcia's caliber. Jug band music was a different matter. It was good music, but you didn't have to be an expert to play it. This weekend show at Top Of The Tangent may be the first advertised Mother McRee's Uptown Jug Band show.

The Stanford Daily listing from May 1, 1964 for the Mother McRee show at the Top Of The Tangent

Like most newspapers, the Stanford Daily listed the shows of its advertisers in its roundup of local events. The May 1, 1964 edition includes some intriguing detail
The Tangent reopens this weekend with singer Ken Carter and Mother McRee's Uptown Jug Champions. New features are a pizzeria and room downstairs for people under 21. The same show will play in both rooms at 8:45, 10:30 pm downstairs, 9:30, 11:15 upstairs. Hoots and auditons will now be held every Wednesday evening. $1.25, 75 cents with discount card.
We learn a number of interesting things about the Tangent here. First of all, because of the timings, we know that the opening act would play downstairs and then upstairs, and would still be performing up there while the headliner was downstairs. Folk music was not particularly loud, so this was actually plausible, but it seems strange to modern fans.

More critically, it appears that the Tangent itself is trying to expand its market to include people under 21 as well as over. It's not clear to me why the insistence that there will be an upstairs and downstairs show is so critical. We know that Bob Weir and many others who were not 21--and certainly didn't look 21--had been regulars at the Tangent. It may be that after the remodel, the Tangent started to serve beer. Once there was beer, there had to be a distinction between upstairs and downstairs, at least officially.

Palo Alto has always had a peculiar relationship with liquor. Leland Stanford had originally wanted the town of Mayfield to host his university, but they refused his condition that they close all the saloons. Instead, Leland Stanford and his partner Timothy Hopkins bought up 75,000 acres between Mayfield and Menlo Park, and the dry town of Palo Alto was founded. Palo Alto laws required that there be no saloon within a mile of campus limits. When prohibition came, Mayfield merged with Palo Alto anyway (Mayfield's downtown was on California Avenue, the future and now-past site of the Keystone Palo Alto).

After Prohibition, bars opened a mile from campus--conveniently, the old Mayfield was just over the limit, and the county line was a mile away, in East Palo Alto. But downtown Palo Alto did not have a bar until--this is not a typo--1981. This helps to explain why decades of Stanford undergraduates were so anxious to go to San Francisco instead. Palo Alto residents like my parents were satisfied with this, because they did not want the sleepy downtown to become infested with sleazy bars that were open late. However, per California law, restaurants were allowed to serve beer and wine. This meant that a place like The Tangent, which served food, was one of the few places to get a beer in downtown Palo Alto, since they did not have to compete with any bars.

117 University Avenue, Palo Alto, as it looked in 2006. At the time, it was a dive bar (by PA standards) called Rudy's. The upstairs was only accessible by a door on the right (in the center of the photo), with the new address of 119 University. 
The Jug Band played a famous gig in July 1964 (The Daily did not advertise it), recorded and preserved by KZSU producer Peter Wanger, and rescued by his brother some years later. The live recording and subsequent interview with Jerry Garcia that was released is the only officially released trace of the folk music at the Tangent in 1963 and 1964, even though it appears that it happened every weekend.

In the end, it probably didn't matter. Mother McRee's Uptown Jug Champions went electric, as we know. The Tangent itself was open as late as 1969, after which it became The Full Circle. However, after January 1965 there were only periodic scheduled shows at Top Of Tangent, mostly improvisational theater. Casual hoot nights seemed to exist intermittently for the balance of the 60s, and indeed The Warlocks actually showed up at the Tangent a few times in Summer '65, because there was nowhere else for them to play.

However, by 1967, the action moved next door to a club called The Poppycock, at 135 University, but it too did not last beyond 1970. For many years, the building at 117 University Avenue was a pleasant, low-key bar called Rudy's, but it closed around 2013. The upstairs part now has a different entrance and a different address (119 University). Last I looked, there was some sort of high-tech startup there, but they had already moved to San Francisco, just like those who had come before them.