Thursday, May 26, 2016

May 30 1975, Marx Meadows, Golden Gate Park: Jefferson Starship/Diga Rhythm Band (Jerry and Owsley Fin De Seicle?)

The Stanford Daily Entertainment Listings for May 30, 1975. The Jefferson Starship free concert in Golden Gate Park was listed, a sign that the concert was not only approved but not expected to overwhelm the park
The Diga Rhythm Band put out an album on Round Records in March 1976, but they only had three known public performances under that name, all in May 1975. All three of them were opening for the Jefferson Starship and The Sons Of Champlin. Diga opened for the Starship on a Friday and Saturday night at Winterland, on May 16 and 17. While in the middle of a national tour supporting their new album Red Octopus in a very San Francisco fashion, the Starship played a free concert in Marx Meadows in Golden Gate Park on the afternoon of Friday, May 30. There is no doubt of the dater in Starship's performance, as it was publicized in the papers. However, it is not generally noticed that not only did The Diga Rhythm Band open for the Starship and The Sons at Marx Meadows, but that they were joined by David Freiberg on bass and Jerry Garcia on guitar for a 14 minute version of "Fire On The Mountain." For some years I was not certain of Garcia's presence, but the entire 33-minute has surfaced, and there is no doubt.

There may be another lost piece of significance to Garcia's jam with the Diga Rhythm Band at Golden Gate Park on May 30, 1975. There is a reasonably high probability, though not a certainty, that the Jefferson Starship's soundman may have been manning the board for Diga. Since the Starship's soundman was one Owsley Stanley, it would have been fitting that Jerry was mixed by Owsley one last time, at a free concert in Golden Gate Park.

Ustad Alla Rahka and his son Zakir Hussain
Mickey Hart and The Ali Akbar College Of Music
All the members of the Grateful Dead were constantly exploring new music, but Mickey Hart was the only one who made a specific effort to actually receive any kind of formal training. Master indian tabla player Ustad Alla Rakha had moved to the Bay Area in about 1963. Rakha was responsible for the foundation of both The Center For World Music, based in San Francisco and then Berkeley (and now San Diego), and also The Ali Akbar College Of Music, first in Oakland and then in San Rafael.

The Ali Akbar College Of Music was established in Oakland in 1967. Mickey Hart started studying at the school with tabla master Shankar Gosh in 1968, taking what he learned in the school back to Bill Kreutzmann and hence to the Grateful Dead. The College was based in a house in the Oakland hills, at 6024 Ascot Drive. The school outgrew the house however, and thanks to the timely intervention of Rhoney Stanley, the lease was taken over by Owsley Stanley, and the house passed into Grateful Dead legend. At different times, Owsley and Rhoney's roommates included Bob Weir, Bob Thomas, Bob Matthews, Ramrod and Betty Cantor.

In return for letting Owsley and Rhoney take over the lease on 6024 Ascot, Alla Rakha got Rhoney to arrange for his drumming students, including Mickey, to take part in a Grateful Dead concert. True to her word, Rhoney arranged for a special drumming session at the Berkeley Community Theater on September 20, 1968, when Gosh and Vince Delgado joined Mickey and Bill for some high-end percussion. The event was not only an early rock band experiment with "World Music"--not an extant term at the time--but also the first inkling of the "Rhythm Devils" section of Grateful Dead concerts that would arise 10 years later. The Ali Akbar College Of Music then moved to San Rafael, where it remains today.

Shankar Gosh returned to India in 1969, and he was replaced at the school by Zakir Hussain. Hussain was just 21, but he was Alla Rakha's son and had been training since he was 8, In 1970, when Hart and Zakir Hussain met, Mickey would have only been 26 and he had been a drummer since childhood as well, so although from different continents and musical traditions, they appear to have had many parallels. I do not know whether Hart was formally a student of Hussain, but clearly they were friends and Hart presumably played regularly with him. Hussain had an Indian/Rock fusion group called Shanti, who released an album on Atlantic Records in 1971, and Hart had hosted a party and probable FM broadcast at his ranch (August 21, 1971), with Jerry Garcia and the New Riders playing as well. Hart and Hussain also produced an album called Sarangi, The Music Of India, by Ustad Sultan Kahn, in 1974.

The entertainment listings from the Hayward Daily Review of May 16, 1975 list the Diga Rhythm Band opening both nights at Winterland for Jefferson Starship and The Sons of Champlin
Diga Rhythm Band and Jefferson Starship
The roots of the Diga Rhythm Band itself was explained in  the 1976 Round Records Newsletter:
In 1971 Zakir began to select some of his advance students for a school orchestra of only rhythm instruments. This was called Tal Vadyum Rhythm Band and they performed once a quarter at the Ali Akbar Kahn Collect of Music. This was the beginning of the Diga Band. In April, 1975 the Jefferson Starship asked them to play a concert with them and the Sons of Champlin. The band decided to play and also to change their name for public performance. The name chosen was Diga Rhythm Band.
We don't know how often Hart played with the Tay Vadyum Rhythm Band at their quarterly shows, but Hart was not touring at the time, so he would have been regularly available. 

The Jefferson Starship, of course, and risen from the ashes of the Jefferson Airplane, and were on their way to selling even more records than the Airplane had done. When Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen refused to leave Hot Tuna to return to the Airplane, Paul Kantner organized the Jefferson Starship as a touring entity in early 1974. After some live success, the Starship released the well-received Dragon Fly album in September, 1974. It got excellent FM airplay and sold very well, going Gold and reaching #11 on the Billboard album charts. The Jefferson Starship emphasized the harmonies and sharp songwritng side of the Airplane, rather than their looser, rebellious edge. In anticipation of their subsequent album, Red Octopus, Marty Balin had returned to the aircraft, and in May they had released his song "Miracles," which was a huge AM hit. "Miracles" peaked at #3, higher than any Jefferson Airplane single. Red Octopus was going to be released in June, and it was going to be huge.

By mid-decade, financial realities had moved the Jefferson Starship towards mainstream rock and away from psychedelic rabble rousing. In the late 60s, riding high, the Airplane had struck a deal with RCA for their own label imprint (Grunt Records) and an unlimited recording budget at Wally Heider's studio in San Francisco. Of course, the cost of that recording was paid out of future Airplane royalties. Paul Kantner and others took to recording at Heider's rather than touring, and the recording often included Jerry Garcia, David Crosby, Graham Nash and other members of the San Francisco rock scene. When members of the Airplane and their friends recorded at Heider's it appears that they got paid session fees as well, so the so-called PERRO sessions gave everyone walking-around cash, always welcome for musicians.

As the Airplane faded, Paul Kantner and Grace Slick had put out a series of solo-type albums, some under the name Jefferson Starship. Garcia and Betty Cantor were heavily involved. By the fourth of these however, sales had dropped off considerably (the albums were Blows Against The Empire, Sunfighter, Manhole and Baron Von Tollbooth & The Chrome Nun) and royalties no longer adequately funded the excess. The Jefferson Starship went on tour in Spring 1974, with young guitarist Craig Chacuiqo and Jorma's brother Peter Kaukonen on bass. Peter Kaukonen was replaced by Pete Sears (doubling on keyboards and bass with David Freiberg), and the band had released Dragon Fly to great acclaim. Marty Balin rejoined the band and the Starship took flight.

Nonetheless, socially the Jefferson Starship were still good friends with the Grateful Dead, not the least because they were among the last organizations still standing from the old Fillmore days. After all, Dragon Fly had included a song by Robert Hunter, saxman Stephen Schuster worked with both Jefferson Starship and the Godchauxs, most Starship members still lived in Marin, all but one of the current members had at least played the Fillmores, if not with the Airplane, and Alembic still consulted with them on sound and equipment. However, the most important connection was even older than that. At some point, I think by about early 1975, the Jefferson Starship had hired one Owsley Stanley as their soundman.

Now, the Starship did not have a permanent touring operation, like the Grateful Dead, so Owsley would have been hired per tour. However, once the Dead had stopped touring at the end of 1974, Owsley would have no longer been on the Dead's payroll. In any case, Owsley had not had a specific role in the Dead's touring scheme, as his time in jail (1970-72) had allowed for Alembic and Dan Healy to take over the sound and crew. So while outwardly the Jefferson Starship had swung towards a more commercial sound, they still had the retired Acid King himself as their soundman, so psychedelic rebellion was never out of the question.

With a big hit single and a hugely anticipated album coming out in June, the Jefferson Starship had been touring nationally for Red Octopus.  The Starship headlined two shows at Winterland on May 16 and 17, 1975. The Sons Of Champlin, also old Marin friends, were invited to open the shows, and just to give it the old Fillmore flavor, the Starship also invited Mickey Hart's percussion orchestra. The unheard and unprecedented ensemble hearkened back to the mixed bills of the old Fillmore, when a Russian poet once opened for the Jefferson Airplane (Apr 7 '66). The Starship were going for the gold ring, yes, but they were still doing it in San Francisco style. The Sons Of Champlin and The Grateful Dead were just about the only intact bands from the old Fillmore days, so along with the Airplane crew, it was as close as they could get to Old-Timers Day.

Marx Meadows in relation to other famous parts of Golden Gate Park
Live From Marx Meadows
Since the Jefferson Starship were still a proud San Francisco band, mainstream or not, they were going to go about things Fillmore-style. By all accounts, their headline shows at Winterland came off well, and I believe the Diga Rhythm Band got good notices too, even if they were hard to fit into a slot. At the time, there was no public concept of the idea of "World Music," although of course musicians were aware of it, and an intercultural percussion ensemble was unheard of. So the booking of the Diga Rhythm Band was an enjoyably weird thing for the newly-commercial Jefferson Starship, and a definite whiff of the old days.

There is a circulating tape from Winterland, misdated as May 25, although it must be May 16 or May 17. The tape is 40 minutes long, and seems only slightly cut off at the beginning. 45 minutes would be about right for the opening act at Winterland in those days. Diga plays two long numbers, "Tal Mala" and "Magnificent Sevens." Between numbers, Zakir Hussain introduces the band. He tells the crowd that the first number was by Mickey Hart, and "you know him as the drummer from the Grateful Dead," to a big roar from the crowd.
Diga Rhythm Band, May 1975
Zakir Hussain-tabla
Mickey Hart-trap drums
Jordan Aramantha-congas
Jim Loveless-marimbas
Ray Speigel-vibes
Arshad Syad-duggi ("imported specially from India")
"Ali Akbar College of Music sub-line" (Zakir says "behind us," presumably referring to additional drummers providing a basic pulse) 
The Starship national tour had started in May, but to end this leg the band decided to play a free concert in Golden Gate Park. The Starship had played a similar free concert in Central Park in New York City's Central Park back on May 12 (broadcast on WNEW-fm). These free shows were definitely a nod to the olden days. The San Francisco show was no stealth arrangement, and was approved and booked with the city for Friday, May 30. The Starship could not have admitted the show prior to playing the Winterland bookings--Bill Graham wouldn't have allowed the publicity--but once the weekend was over it was no secret. So much so, that the concert was noted in the Stanford Daily performer listings for the day (see the clip up top). It is a sign of the status of the Jefferson Starship that though they had a hit single on the charts ("Miracles") and were a descendant of San Francisco legends, they could still actually publicize a free show in Golden Gate Park and not overwhelm it. Admittedly, it was a Friday, not a weekend, but the Starship were not going to get mobbed.

When you google around, some notes put the free show in Marx Meadows, and others in Speedway Meadows (now called Hellman Hollow), but I found an eyewitness who confirmed that it was Marx Meadows. The previous Garcia free show in Golden Gate Park, with Merl Saunders, had been in Marx Meadows (Sep 2 '74 with Garcia/Saunders), and the Grateful Dead would play a free show in Speedway Meadows on September 28 '75. However, my recollection of the September Dead show was that the Jefferson Starship had openly booked a show for Speedway Meadows with themselves and "other bands", and the Dead were essentially snuck in. I think the May show was booked, and went successfully, so the Starship could say with a straight face "we will have other bands" and the city just figured it would be the Sons or something. So, in that respect, the mainstream Starship still had some old Airplane rabble-rousing left in them.

The Diga album, released on Round Records in March 1976
Diga Rhythm Band Live
I'm not sure what time the concert started, presumably around noon or something, which is pretty early for most musicians. Diga Rhythm Band opened the show. The tape seems complete, and including stage announcements, it is 33 minutes long. The group is introduced somewhat tentatively as "The Diga Rhythm Band." Zakir Hussain tells the crowd that they are all musicians from the Indian Music college,  The Ali Akbar School Of Music in Marin, and "they play music all night and day." He explains that the Diga Rhythm Band is "The Rhythm Band Of The World." Remember, at this time, there was no term like "World Music," even though a few groups like Kaleidoscope and Shanti had done such things.

Rather uniquely, Zakir Hussain then introduces all the drums on stage, like the trap drums (which he calls "The American Drum"), and the congas from Cuba and Africa, and so on, but he does not introduce the actual band members. The group then plays a 13-minute piece, apparently called "Sweet Sixteen" that seems to have a certain basic structure but appears to include plenty of improvisation, as well. Then, Zakir announces that they have a few friends who will join them for the next number. The subsequent roar leaves no doubt as to who one of those friends is (punctuated by people shouting "Jerry!!!" of course). Although he is not announced, and it is hard to be certain from the audience tape, my eyewitness confirmed that David Freiberg played bass along with Jerry. In any case, Jerelyn Brandelius published a photo with Freiberg on bass with Diga from Golden Gate Park [update: Commenter ruppi43 points out that Garcia can be seen in the linked photo]. I'm not aware of a photo of Jerry on stage with Diga [update: Commenter ruppi43 links to a Ron Draper photo of Jerry on stage, playing the Wolf] , although there may be one of him waiting to go on stage. Also, the Grateful Dead Archive has a photo of some members of the Sons of Champlin "backstage" at Golden Gate Park in 1975, and I suspect that it is from May 30, as well.

Zakir Hussain then announces that the next composition is called "The Fire On The Mountain." Diga, Jerry and Freiberg launch into a percussionized version of the "Fire On The Mountain" theme that we are all familiar with, and then launch into a lengthy jam that is loosely based on the rhythms, but there is no singing nor anything resembling a verse structure. At the end, after about 15 minutes, the group comes back for a reprise of the theme, and then they end the song. Zakir Hussain thanks the crowd and says, "The Sons Of Champlin will be coming on shortly."

It's important to remember that while Garcia loved to play, and had more time on his hands during 1975 than any other year in his Grateful Dead career, he did not like to "hang out," nor did he like casual jamming on inferior or borrowed equipment. Any Jerry Garcia appearance in 1975 was planned, even if only Jerry and a roadie knew of that plan. So here are some facts to consider:
  • Garcia was in town. While Garcia was playing around with his own band, he wasn't playing with the Dead, of course, so he was far more likely to look for opportunities to sit in with other bands
  • Whether or not Garcia had played with The Tal Vydum Rhythm Band--probably not--he had jammed with Hart and Zakir Hussain at Hart's barn, so he was comfortable with that style of music
  • David Freiberg was present with the Starship, and his equipment would have been on stage. Freiberg had played with Garcia many times, so he was no untried stranger who couldn't handle the curveballs.
  • If Hart was bringing equipment over, Garcia's amp could be put on the truck as well. This too would have been no small thing to Garcia, who wouldn't have wanted to play difficult music on some borrowed Fender that he hadn't broken in.
Mickey Hart and Robert Hunter had written "Fire On The Mountain" back around 1972, and the song was intended to be the title track to Hart's second solo album. Warner Brothers rejected the album in 1973, not least because the Dead had not re-signed with Warners, so the label had no desire to release what they would have considered a money-losing vanity album by their former clients' former drummer. So the song was known to Garcia and Hart, but not to anyone but the most connected Deadheads.

The album Diga, by the Diga Rhythm Band, was released on Round Records in March of 1976. Recording had probably begun by Spring 1975, but any chance to complete and release the album was delayed until the next year, as Round Records had one of their perpetual cash crises. One of the tracks is titled "Happiness Is Drumming," and it appears to be the basic pattern of "Fire On The Mountain," with Garcia on guitar. So Hart, Garcia and Diga may have already been working on this. On the album, the composition is credited to Diga Rhythm Band, rather than Hart. Since there was no singing, Hunter did not need to credited. Still, Zakir Hussain's mention of the song title would have been it's first public usage.

Owsley Stanley, after being busted in Orinda, CA on December 23, 1967. This SF Chronicle photo was one of the few photos of Owsley that were published in the 20th century
The final question is whether Owsley was the soundman. I don't know when Owsley was hired by the Starship, but I think it was definitely by Spring '75, and possibly the Fall before that. If the Starship were going to play in Golden Gate Park, they were going to try out their setup, so they would want their regular touring soundman. So I think he was there. That doesn't mean that Dan Healy or Betty Cantor wasn't on the board for Diga instead, and maybe I am thinking wishfully, but it's a worthwhile consideration. If anyone went to the show and recalls who was on the board, please let us know in the Comments.

I think Owsley's presence would have been significant. Garcia liked to jam with other musicians, and just be part of the band, but by 1975 he only wanted to do it in controlled, professional situations. The Sons Of Champlin might have brought their own soundman, but who would Diga have used? Owsley sure seems like a likely choice, since he would have been there with Starship. Owsley also seems like someone who would have directly invited or indirectly enticed Garcia to play with Diga, since he could guarantee the sound in his own inimitable fashion.

If Owsley did mix Jerry with Diga on May 30, 1975, it was the last go-round. I don't know who mixed the sound for the Speedway Meadows Dead set on September 28, but it wouldn't have been Owsley. Owsley was probably mixing the sound for the Starship set in September, but Dan Healy and the rest of the crew had their issues with Owsley and would have actively insured that his hands were not on the board for the Dead's set. So it may be that a largely forgotten Garcia appearance in Golden Gate Park in someone else's band was the the formal end of the musical partnership between two giants of late century psychedelia.

Appendix 1: Diga Rhythm Band album


Diga Rhythm Band

Initial release : March 1976
Round Records RX 110 / RX-LA600-G
Percussion based album from Mickey Hart and friends. Garcia plays guitar on two tracks.
  • Sweet Sixteen (Diga Rhythm Band)
  • Magnificent Sevens (Diga Rhythm Band)
  • Happiness Is Drumming (Diga Rhythm Band)
  • Razooli (Diga Rhythm Band)
  • Tal Mala (Diga Rhythm Band)
Diga Rhythm Band;
  • Jordan Amarantha - congas, bongos
  • Peter Carmichael - tabla
  • Aushim Chaudhuri - tabla
  • Vince Delgado - dumbek, tabla, talking drum
  • Tor Dietrichson - tabla
  • Mickey Hart - traps, gongs, timbales, tympani
  • Zakir Hussain - tabla, folk drums, tar
  • Jim Loveless - marimbas
  • Joy Shulman - tabla
  • Ray Spiegel - vibes
  • Arshad Syed - duggi tarang, nal
  • Jerry Garcia - guitar (on Razooli and Happiness Is Drumming)
  • Jim McPherson - vocals (on Razooli)
  • Kathy McDonald - vocals (on Razooli)
  • David Freiberg - vocals (on Razooli)

  • Produced by Mickey Hart
  • Associate producer - Vince Delgado
  • Production assistant and arranging associate - Zakir Hussain
  • Engineers - Dan Healy, Bill Wolf, Betty Cantor
  • Assistant engineer - Brett Cohen
  • Recorded at the Barn, Novato
  • Remixed in 1988 :
  • Engineer (1988) - Tom Flye
  • Assistant engineer (1988) - Tom Size
  • Digital mastering (1988) - Joe Glaswirt
  • Cover art - Jordan De La Sierra
  • Package design - Steven Jurgensmeyer
  • Photograph - Onehart
  • Liner notes - Frederic Lieberman
The Winter 1976 Round Records newsletter provided a history of the Diga Rhythm Band.
In 1968 Mickey Hart was studying at the Ali Akbar College of Music with Tabla Master Shankar Gosh. Mickey would work on compositions with Shankar which included Rhythmic Cycles of 4, 6, 16, 5 & 7 and take these teachings to Bill Kreutzmann. Mickey and Bill were instructing Shankar on traps in exchange for Tabla lessons and would combine their knowledge in compositions of East and West.
In September of 1968 the Grateful Dead played a concert at Berkeley Community Theater. Before the concert the drummers had planned a surprise for the audience. During part of "Alligator", the G. D. amps rolled apart and two risers rolled on stage between Mickey and Bill. On them were Shankar Gosh and Vince Delgado, a fine dumbec player and a student of Shankar's. The four men sat and fixed compositions together, taking a rhythmic journey through many "Tals" or time cycles. Ali Akbar Kahn composed the closing composition for them and when they were finished, the applause was deafening. Shankar left Ali Akbar College in 1969 and returned to India, at this time Mickey also left to pursue electronic music.
In 1970 Mickey was introduced to Zakir Hussain, son of Mickey's mentor, Alla Rakha. Mickey met Alla Rakha in 1967 and had given himself over to the teachings of Indian rhythms during their first meeting. He subsequently became Shankar's student in California. Zakir had come from India to replace Shankar as Ali Akbar's personal drummer as Tabla instructor for the school. Quite a job for a man of 21, but Zakir had been studying since 8 years of age, he came well prepared.
In 1971 Zakir began to select some of his advance students for a school orchestra of only rhythm instruments. This was called Tal Vadyum Rhythm Band and they performed once a quarter at the Ali Akbar Kahn Collect of Music. This was the beginning of the Diga Band. In April, 1975 the Jefferson Starship asked them to play a concert with them and the Sons of Champlin. The band decided to play and also to change their name for public performance. The name chosen was Diga Rhythm Band. The concerts at Winterland in San Francisco on May 16 & 17, 1975 were successful, Alla Rakha was there both nights and was very pleased. Bill Graham was elated and the musicians from the other groups were very receptive to the music.
Diga is currently recording an album for Round Records, to be distributed by United Artists, in April. The band also plans to tour maybe in the Spring of '76.
Appendix 2: Jefferson Starship circa 1975
Grace Slick-vocals
Marty Balin-vocals
Craig Chaquico-lead guitar
Paul Kantner-rhythm guitar, vocals
Papa John Creach-electric violin
David Freiberg-keyboards, bass, vocals
Pete Sears-bass, keyboards
John Barbata-drums

Fillmore notes:
  • Slick, Balin and Kantner had played the original Fillmore and both Fillmores West and East with the Jefferson Airplane
  • Papa John Creach had played Fillmores West and East with Hot Tuna
  • David Freiberg had played all the Fillmores with Quicksilver Messenger Service
  • John Barbata had played the Fillmore with the Turtles, and Fillmore East with CSNY (June 2-7 '70)
  • Pete Sears had played Fillmore West with Silver Metre (May 28-31 and July 9-12 '70)
  • Craig Chacuiqo, the youngest member of Starship, had never played the Fillmores
Here is the setlist for the Starship's free concert in Central Park earlier in May. The Golden Gate Park set was probably similar.
May 12 1975 Central Park, New York, NY: Jefferson Starship (WNEW-fm broadcast)
Ride the Tiger, Fast Buck Freddie, The Witcher, Devil's Den, Caroline, Driving Me Crazy, Papa John's Down Home Blues, Play on Love, Better Lying Down, Have You Seen the Saucers, Come to Life, Sweeter than Honey incl. drum solo, Somebody to Love, White Rabbit, Volunteers