Thursday, April 27, 2017

August 3, 1969 Family Dog On The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Albert Collins/Ballet Afro-Haiti (Plus Special Mystery Guests!)[FDGH I]

A flyer for a weekend at Chet Helms Family Dog On The Great Highway, featuring the "Good Old Greatful Dead," Ballet Afro-Haiti and Albert Collins. The Dead did not play the first night (although some members, not including Garcia, jammed), but on the final night they were joined onstage by musical guests who remain mysterious. Note Marc Bolan appearing the next week, back when he was a hippie.

The Grateful Dead stand out amongst their 60s peers for many reasons, not least their willingness to improvise on stage, counting on chance and inspiration to make a memorable musical impression. Of course, the Dead also stand out for having not only taped but preserved many of their old shows, so we have an extensive musical record of the band in their glory days. Thus scholarship on the history of the Grateful Dead's music has thrived, with so much glorious source material. Yet it remains a fascinating conundrum, that for all the Dead's worldwide popularity and voluminous history, some factual details remain tantalizingly just beyond our knowledge. A perfect case is shown by some special guests jamming with the Grateful Dead in their prime, on tape, at Chet Helms Family Dog On The Great Highway, on Sunday August 3, 1969. A tenor saxophonist and an electric violinist sit in for various numbers, including "High Heeled Sneakers" and a remarkable "Dark Star," and they make the performance a unique musical exploration indeed. Who are these guests? We can't tell.

I have struggled with the mystery of August 3, 1969 before, in a different context, but the 2017 Grateful Dead Marathon brought the question into sharp focus. While the tape has been available for some time, as usual host David Gans had a top-of-the-line mix that brought out the best in the music. It's one thing to hear musicians sit in with the Dead for a blues jam, but it's another to hear an electric violin and tenor sax comfortably weaving in and out of "Dark Star" with Jerry Garcia and Phil Lesh. So, finally, it wasn't just me who was wondering who was sitting in with the Dead on a warm-ish, windy Summer Sunday night in 1969 at the edge of the continent, but all of the Deadhead World. And guess what? We still don't know. Now, Deadlists says that the guests were Charles Lloyd and David LaFlamme, but those are unlikely suppositions based on little more than air. This post will look into some possible identities of the special guests at the Family Dog on August 3, 1969, and marshal some of the evidence for and against the various choices.

An ad from the San Francisco Chronicle (from Jan 24 1967) advertising the Charles Lloyd Quartet (with Keith Jarrett, Ron McClure and Jack DeJohnette) at the Both/And Jazz Club at 350 Divisadero (at Oak)
J-Card Conventions (or Heuristics)
Many Deadheads, like me, used to carefully annotate the J-Cards on their Maxell tapes with the best available information about the venue, date, song titles and tape history. It was these sorts of efforts that led to the collective enterprise of the original Deadbase, and subsequent efforts like Deadlists and TheJerrySite. Although improved research and the Internet has greatly improved the quality of our information about each taped piece of Grateful Dead music, some cowpaths remain. One peculiar track is the tendency to ascribe unknown special guest appearances to the same people over and over. This is a form of shortcut, formally known as a heuristic, that assigns the most likely answer first, and waits for it to be disproven.

One of the long-time heuristics for old Grateful Dead cassette boxes was to attribute any guest flute performances to Charles Lloyd. Remember, in Days Of Yore we weren't even sure if the dates on our tapes were correct, much less the guests, so if you got a cassette that said "flute--Charles Lloyd" you just wrote it on your own J-Card. Lloyd, in fact, had definitely jammed with the Dead in the 1960s. He was a tenor sax and flute player originally based in Los Angeles in the early 60s, where he replaced no less than Eric Dolphy in Chico Hamilton's group (playing along with Gabor Szabo and Albert Stinson). By 1964, Lloyd had moved to New York, where he played with Cannonball Adderley, and recorded his great 1965 album Of Course, Of Course, with Gabor Szabo and Miles Davis' rhythm section (and Robbie Robertson, of all people, on "Third Floor Richard," an ode to their speed dealer).

Lloyd was one of the first jazz musicians to embrace playing the Fillmore and the Avalon, while not compromising his music.  Lloyd's 1967 Atlantic Records album Love-In was recorded at the Fillmore in January 1967, featuring his great band with Keith Jarrett (piano), Ron McClure (bass) and Jack DeJohnette (drums). During the weekend of the Human Be-In (January 13-15, 1967), Lloyd and his group were playing the Both/And jazz club near the Haight-Ashbury district (in its old location at 350 Divisadero Street). Thus Lloyd was around for the Human Be-In, and by all accounts he joined the Grateful Dead on stage to play flute on "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl." I should point out, however, that Lloyd's presence there has never been confirmed by a photo. That being said, Lloyd's group opened for the Grateful Dead several weeks later, at a four-night stand at The Rock Garden in the Excelsior District. There's every reason to think that Lloyd jammed with the Dead there, and his place in Dead history was firmly established, even if we have no actual taped evidence.

Once Lloyd was officially established as a "friend of the Dead," it seemed that every flute part was attributed to him. Some years ago, I wrote a post explaining how Lloyd was always attributed as the
flute player in places like Seattle or Fresno, when in fact it was not only unlikely but untrue. Yet Lloyd's presence on hand-copied J-cards overwhelmed any factual evidence. Thus it was no surprise to see the Deadlists entry for August 3, 1969, and see that the attributions for the guests were for Charles Lloyd on tenor sax and David LaFlamme, from Its A Beautiful Day, on electric violin. Although we will get deeply into the details in a few paragraphs, the point to make here is that the assignment of Lloyd and LaFlamme as the guest artists was only the repetition of received folklore, not based on anyone's actual assessment of the music itself and the circumstances surrounding the performance. It might be Charles Lloyd on the tape--not likely, but it might be--and it is definitely not LaFlamme, not least since LaFlamme himself says it wasn't, but no value should be placed on the timeworn assertion that they are the guests.

Jamming On Stage, In Real Life
In order to identify plausible suspects for the musical guests at the Family Dog, we have to take a step back and consider the reality of musicians jamming on stage. So many Deadheads are so invested in the band--myself included--that we tend to forget that they were working musicians with the usual goals and gripes. So before we try and narrow down our list of suspects, let me assert a few basic facts of rock musicians jamming in public. I'm happy, indeed pleased, to hear any contrasting views, but I think what was true for the Grateful Dead in 1969 is just as true for gigging rock musicians today, whether famous or not. Some criteria:

  • Just because certain musicians enjoy jamming in the rehearsal room or the garage doesn't mean that they are always willing to jam on stage
  • Musicians treasure their time performing on stage. It's the highlight of the day, if not the week, and they aren't going to casually hand off part of it to people outside their own band, unless there's some musical payoff
  • Electric music requires planning, rehearsal, transport and equipment, and that's not even counting logistical and financial negotiations with the venue. A guest musician is a wild card, not always professionally welcome at an event where, by definition, it has been a lot of work to organize the performance
  • Even when there is no time limit, and a comfortable situation (like a club a band has played many times), musicians will not jam in public with some chump
  • Musicians will only jam publicly with someone they have either already played with, or at least have seen and heard play
  • Just because some musician has "made a record" doesn't make him or her a good jamming partner. Not everyone can jam, and many who can may not perform well with borrowed equipment or after too many beers
  • A musician might take the word of another musician about whether a stranger can jam, but only if that word came from someone who themselves was a worthy jam partner

My checklist is a formal listing of criteria for who could be considered as possible jamming partners for the Grateful Dead at the Family Dog on August 3, 1969. Whoever the tenor saxophonist and electric violinist were who played the Dead, they had to be established musicians with the band members, and particularly Jerry Garcia. Either there had been some prior jamming, or they were familiar from other performances. Perhaps only one of them was known to the Dead, but then the other had to be connected to the first one. Anyone with no prior connection to the band realistically be written off. Our research goal here, then, is to identify possible jamming partners and consider the degrees of connection to the Grateful Dead.

The poster for the Grateful Dead, Ballet Afro-Haiti and Albert Collins at the Family Dog On The Great Highway, August 1-3, 1969. The Grateful Dead did not perform on August 1, because Jerry Garcia did not want to cross a picket line. They played a great show on Sunday August 3, however, with some special guests on stage.
The Family Dog, August 1969
Chet Helms had begun 1966 as Bill Graham's partner at the Fillmore Auditorium, but by April 1966 he had split off to run the Avalon Ballroom. Although the Avalon was fondly remembered, and was successful for a while, by 1968 the expanding rock market and head-to-head competition with Bill Graham Presents put the Avalon down for the count. Chet Helms' last show at the Avalon was December 1, 1968. By June 1969, however, Helms had returned to promoting shows at an old ballroom at a San Francisco amusement park called Playland At The Beach. The Family Dog On The Great Highway, at 660 Great Highway, was on the Western edge of San Francisco, far from the Haight Ashbury, downtown, the East Bay or any Peninsula suburbs.

While there were many aspects to the Family Dog's strangely distant location at Ocean Beach, only one thing concerns us here. Since the FDGH was so far from anywhere, musicians didn't just "drop in"--it wasn't near any entertainment districts (like the Fillmore), it wasn't on the way home from anywhere, and you had to drive. So any musician who jammed with anyone at the Family Dog did it on purpose. They had to have had the night off from working, they had to have driven there and they had to have brought their instruments with them. It couldn't have been casual. If you were jamming at the Family Dog, it was because you were invited and had the time and inclination to make a special trip.

Mystery Tenor Sax
Let's begin with thinking about the guest tenor sax player. But before we go any further, let me break from my usual protocol and encourage you to listen to the tape while you try and parse my arguments and think of your own. My approach is analytical rather than musical, and any sharp-eared listeners, particularly with a musical background, or greatly encouraged to weigh in with speculation in the Comments. I'm great at history and facts, but I don't have any musical training (beyond way too many albums) to provide that other kind of insight.

Now, for whatever reasons, the tenor sax player is on fewer songs than the electric violinist.  He joins in on the fourth number, "High Heeled Sneakers" (see the list below), and then returns for the big jams: "Dark Star," and then (after "Alligator">drums>)he plays on "The Other One">"Caution." There is some serious jamming going on. Whoever he is, he knows what the Dead are up to, and ranges from quietly merging with Garcia on the theme of "Dark Star" to wailing away on "Caution." It certainly seems like he has played with the Dead before. Could it be Charles Lloyd?

A clip from the August 1, 1969, San Francisco Chronicle, announcing that saxophonist Charles Lloyd has been replaced by blues guitarist Albert Collins for the weekend's Grateful Dead booking at the Family Dog
Charles Lloyd
Here's the confusing thing. Charles Lloyd was originally booked on the bill with the Dead. However, several days before, Lloyd was replaced by blues guitarist Albert Collins. There was a flyer (up top) that circulated, and the San Francisco Chronicle knew about it, since they published a notice on August 1 indicating that Collins had replaced Lloyd (just above). Here's the text:
Albert Collins, the noted Texas blues guitarist, will appear with the Grateful Dead and the Ballet Afro-Haiti this weekend, Friday through Sunday, at the new Family Dog On The Great Highway, next to Playland. 
This show takes the place of the one originally set to feature Charles Lloyd, the saxophonist and flutist. 
Collins, who now lives in Los Angeles, was recently signed a contract with Imperial Records.
Do you think that even though Lloyd was no longer booked at the Family Dog, he showed up anyway and jammed with the Dead? It's an intriguing thought. I also find it sadly unlikely. Lloyd lived in Los Angeles, and wasn't playing much at the time, as he was mostly studying Transcendental Meditation. The Family Dog isn't an easy place to get to. Do we think Lloyd flew up to San Francisco, somehow got a ride to the Dog, and sat in? It's a nice thought, but if was going to show up, why not just play the gig? Sure, maybe he had no band, but plenty of jazz gigs are just one-offs with a pickup band, and plenty of SF jazzers had played with Lloyd before. So I'm inclined to think it wasn't him, precisely because he canceled. If any sharp-eared jazzers can recognize that it's Lloyd, please comment.

There's a lot of possible tenor saxophonists, but let's run through some other candidates. Please Comment or nominate your own.

Martin Fierro conducted the music for the soundtrack to the movie El Topo. It was performed by the band Shades Of Joy, which included Fierro, Jackie King and Jymm Young. Howard Wales also played on the album, released by Douglas Records in 1971,
Martin Fierro is a very popular choice, and indeed at times the tone of the saxophonist has Martin's sound. The only problem with this theory is that Fierro himself said that although he first met Garcia in the 1960s in the park, at a drum circle, he did not play with him until the Howard Wales Hooteroll session in Summer 1970 (Fierro and Wales had played together in El Paso). Fierro was interviewed many times about playing with Garcia--do we think he just forgot an hour long jam on stage with the Dead? 

If it was Fierro, and he just "forgot," who invited him on stage? In fact, Fierro had actually opened for the Grateful Dead, in his group Shades Of Joy, and also probably with Doug Sahm, in March 1969, but neither Fierro nor Garcia seems to have remembered that. Sure, Fierro could have been backstage, but who made the pitch to get him on stage, and if such a thing happened, why did Garcia and Fierro forget it? Too many details don't add up.

One point to consider is that there is a "Texas Tenor" sound that goes back to Illinois Jacquet. Fierro is definitely in that school (and probably was very proud of it). So when we hear some licks and think, "hey that sounds like Martin," we may be hearing the Texas sound. That might narrow our choices a bit, but we have to remember that Martin played in known jazz styles, and wasn't a complete outlier in his own right. 

A much more logical choice would be Steven Schuster, who most Deadheads know as the tenor and flute player for the Keith And Donna Band. Schuster has a substantial 60s pedigree. He was the equipment manager for Quicksilver Messenger Service in 1967 and '68, so he was in on every great Dead/Quick adventure from the 60s. He regularly jammed with QMS on stage (and he co-wrote the classic "Gold And Silver" with Gary Duncan), so he would have been a very known quantity.

Via David Gans, someone asked Schuster if he remembered this jam, and his reply, was, approximately, "it was the 60s, so, of course not."

Another intriguing long shot is jazz saxophonist Noel Jewkes. Although not a major name, Jewkes was well known in both jazz and psychedelic circles. Jewkes played sax and flute in the group Light Sound Dimension, which featured Bill Ham's light show backed by a jazz trio (Jewkes, Fred Marshall and Jerry Granelli). Jewkes was also married to Denise Kaufmann of the Ace Of Cups (known as "Mary Microgram" in the Kesey days). I think Jewkes played flute on the 1969 Quicksilver album Shady Grove, produced by Dan Healy, so there were plenty of links.

John Handy was probably the Dean of San Francisco jazz musicians in the 1960s. All of the Dead would have known and admired his music. I don't know of any direct social connections between the Dead and Handy, but since he lived in San Francisco I'm sure there were intersections.

Hadley Caliman is a bit more of a long shot, but it's at least plausible. He was a San Francisco based player, and he worked with rock bands on occasion. Caliman also occasionally substituted for Michael White in The Fourth Way (see below), so he was linked to the rock world. I don't know of any direct or even indirect connection to the Grateful Dead, however (unless you want to count Music From El Topo).

Jack Bonus only album, released on the Jefferson Airplane's Grunt Records label (distributed by RCA). It came out in 1972 and includes the original version of "Hobo Song," recorded later by Old And In The Way. Bonus played guitar, saxophone and flute

Jack Bonus
So many musicians happily brag on their websites or in interviews about having played with or even just opened for Jerry Garcia or the Grateful Dead, as well they should. So the fact that no sax or violin player has stepped up to describe the Family Dog jam always befuddles me. Whenever we consider a candidate, we have to consider why he never mentioned it. One person who this unfortunately applies to would be Jack Bonus. "Jack Bonus" may not even be his real name, but that's the name he used when he wrote and recorded an album of original songs for Grunt Records in 1972. Deadheads may recognize the name from his songwriting credit on "Hobo Song," memorably performed by Old And In The Way. Bonus even showed up at a Keystone Berkeley performance of the Great American String Band on May 5, 1974. But who was he?

The only other album credit I know for Jack Bonus is playing saxophones and flute on the second Earth Opera album, The Great American Eagle Tragedy, released on Elektra in 1969. Earth Opera was led by Peter Rowan and David Grisman, and played sort of neo-baroque psychedelia. Somehow Bonus ended up in California a few years later, and his connection to Rowan must be how Old And In The Way came to know "Hobo Song."

I have been reliably informed, however, that Bonus was a musically talented man with some serious mental health issues. At the time, at least, there wasn't apparently good treatment for him, so he ended up on Disability. He was too unstable to be in a band, but for all his problems his formidable musical talents remained intact, which is one reason the Airplane had him record the album. I don't know how Bonus might have gotten to San Francisco, or how he knew the Dead--maybe Grisman gave him an introduction?--but its possible. Since Bonus didn't have a career, he didn't have a website, so he would never have publicly reported on it. It's a true longshot, but I can't rule it out.

These are my nominees for the tenor sax guest. If you've got others, please Comment.

Other Guest Instruments?
David Gans' sharp ears noted that the first guitar solo on "Mama Tried" doesn't sound like Garcia, and indeed there seems to be an additional guitarist. The twangy Telecaster sound certainly calls to mind David Nelson. This might explain why someone on stage says "let Dave do one" right before "High Heeled Sneakers." Certainly Nelson fits the profile of a familiar face who would have been invited to jam with the band on stage for a few numbers.

More intriguingly, if you listen to the lengthy (4:42) tuning prior to the first number, you hear Jerry say "are we playing acoustic?" and then "Bear's got a banjo!' There follows some mock horror from the band at the banjo, but why was Owsley coming on stage with a banjo? That points to old pal Peter Grant, who played banjo on stage with the New Riders and occasionally the Dead in Summer '69. Per Grant himself, when he played banjo with either group, it was through a Fender Twin Reverb "set to stun." Grant was also an excellent six-string player, so maybe in fact it was Grant on stage for some of the country picking.

Mystery Electric Violinist
Electric violin was not that common an instrument in the 1960s. With that in mind, one would think that it would be easy to figure out the Grateful Dead's violin guest at the Family Dog, but his identity has remained surprisingly elusive. The conventional answer is always David LaFlamme of It's A Beautiful Day, so let's consider him first.

David LaFlamme
David LaFlamme was one of the first electric violinists on the Haight Ashbury scene. Classically trained, he arrived from Utah in late 1966, and formed a band called Orkustra (sometimes billed as Elektric Chamber Orkustra). They played sitting down, and they played many famous underground events. LaFlamme hung out at 710, as many players did, and there is a photo of him from about 1967, playing violin while Jerry is sitting at his Fender pedal steel guitar. LaFlamme went on to lead It's A Beautiful Day in late '67, and they had a successful debut album in 1969, featuring the hit "White Bird." Garcia played on the band's second album, and LaFlamme sat in with Garcia and the New Riders a few times on stage, so LaFlamme seems like a likely choice as the mystery violinist.

But it isn't him. Our source for this is David LaFlamme, who says it wasn't him. On top of that, it doesn't sound remotely like him. LaFlamme has a rich, melodic tone, even when he is playing "country" music, and the violinist has a reedy, bluesy tone. It's very appropriate for the Dead, but it doesn't sound like LaFlamme. So no matter how many tape boxes or old hippies say it was LaFlamme, it wasn't.

To continue with those we can eliminate, Papa John Creach is another name who gets mentioned regularly, but it wasn't him, either. Creach did not meet Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady until 1970 (via drummer Joey Covington), so he wasn't the guest in 1969.

Richard Greene, an old friend of Garcia's dating back to about 1963, has said that he didn't play with Garcia and the Dead in the 1960s. Although Greene was playing electric violin with Seatrain at the time, I don't think he would have forgotten. In any case, the violinist doesn't sound remotely like Greene.

A note in Ralph Gleason's Chronicle column from March 5, 1969, announcing the San Francisco debut of French electric violinist Jean-Luc Ponty. Ponty would play the Both/And Club (in its original location at 350 Divisadero) from March 6-9, backed by George Duke and his trio (Dick Heard-bass, Al Checci-drums). The show was a rehearsal of sorts for Ponty's Los Angeles debut at Donte's in North Hollywood on March 12
Jean-Luc Ponty, the unique and remarkable French electric violinist, doesn't seem like a likely guest at a Grateful Dead show in August 1969, but I have figured out it wasn't absolutely impossible. Ponty had played the 1967 Monterey Jazz Festival, but other than that his American debut was at San Francisco's Both/And Club (at 350 Divisadero). Ponty, backed by jazz trio of Marin City'w own George Duke (with Dick Heard-bass, Al Checci-drums), played March 6-9, 1969 at the Both/And. This was a rehearsal for Ponty's Los Angeles debut (with the Duke Trio) at Donte's in North Hollywood (March 12-14, released 1n 1981 on Blue Note as Live At Donte's).

Ponty's more famous return to California was in late Summer '69, when he played again
in September 1969 at Thee Experience in Hollywood, backed by George Duke's trio. However, I have found a listing for George Duke and Ponty in Concord, of all places, on August 30, so he was in California before September.

Still, it raises the same question: Ponty was a jazz guy, newly arrived from France, who'd only been to California briefly. Nobody who was connected to Ponty at this point had any connections to the rock underground or the Family Dog. George Duke would go on to play with Frank Zappa for many years--indeed Zappa first heard Duke backing Ponty at Thee Experience--but in 1969 Duke had no connection to Zappa or any rock bands (save for having been in the Tamalpais High Marching Band with Bill Champlin, I kid you not). It's too much of a stretch for me to think that Ponty somehow got to the Family Dog to play with the Dead, who themselves had no connection to the jazz scene at the time.

Doug Sahm was an old friend of the Dead's, and a pretty good electric violinist (as well as guitarist), and he checks all the boxes. There's only one problem with this theory--the Sir Douglas Quintet was playing the Atlantic City Pop Festival in New Jersey on August 3. So we are left with speculation even further afield. Conveniently, speculation about the Grateful Dead is my specialty.

Bay Area jazz fusion group The Fourth Way released their debut album on Capitol in 1969. Michael White played electric violin (along with Mike Nock [piano], Ron McClure [bass] and Eddie Marshall [drums]). 
Michael White
With so few electric violinists in the 1960s, and even fewer who were both good enough to play with the Grateful Dead and somehow connected enough to drive out to the Great Highway to jam, I thought it would be easy. My first idea was very clever, namely Michael White. White, from Oakland, had played electric violin with John Handy in the mid-60s. By 1969, he was in a great fusion group called The Fourth Way, who played regularly around the Bay Area. The Fourth Way had even opened for the New Riders once (October 17, 1969).

Now, granted, the Fourth Way had a gig in Berkeley on August 3 (at The New Orleans House), but I could see my way around that. One of my fellow scholars liked my idea, and emailed White, however, who said it wasn't him. So scratch that idea.

John Tenney
We then turned our attention to a relatively little-known guy named John Tenney. Tenney is one of those back-of-the-album names, not well known but present if you read all the fine print. Tenney was classically trained and played the regular session and downtown Theater gigs, but he also played R&B covers in some local bands (This Ole World and Mother's Country Jam). Some former members of The Loading Zone were in those bands, so there were social connections.

On top of that, we know that Tenney played at least one studio session with Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir and Pigpen. There are tapes recorded by Mercury Records that circulate as "Pigpen solo sessions" from 1969, and Tenney is the violinist, along with Garcia on pedal steel and Pig on vocals (the whole story is here, and I don't think it was a Pigpen solo album). Another great idea, but a fellow scholar emailed Tenney, and he said it wasn't him. Still, Tenney had some interesting insights [in a personal email] after hearing the tape.
Don't know what to tell you about the fiddle player. It doesn't sound like LaFlamme to me either... He was much more melodic, and that scrubby bluegrassy (but non-authentic) playing at the end of "Caution Do Not Stop on Tracks" sounds weird in places, almost as if played on a 5-string hybrid violin/viola (I'm hearing high E string and also low C string both). That was not common yet that early; came in a lot more when real electric string instruments were developed in the 70s and 80s. Do you know anything about a player named Rodney Albin? He was brother of Peter Albin, who played in Big Brother. Rodney was a violin maker, also was I believe the manager of the famous house on Page Street (1090?) where the Dead lived early on [sic-it was Big Brother]. He could have made a hybrid 5-string, definitely had the capability for it. He was not an excellent player, but then again neither is the player on these tracks.  
Incidentally he [Rodney Albin] also made the electric violin that I played on then (I was at the time of this recording/playing in an R&B/soul mostly-cover band called This Ole World, a spinoff of the Berkeley band The Loading Zone). It was very simple, had practically no electronics, and was a solid piece of wood so it was heavy as hell under the chin...
So Tenney has raised the possibility that the guest's violin may have been made by old Dead friend Rodney Albin. If a player was coming to buy an electric violin from Rodney, Rodney's word could have gotten him on stage.

Rodney Albin (1940-84), musician and luthier.
Rodney Albin
Of course, Tenney also raised the possibility of Rodney Albin being the guest. Now, the case for and against Rodney is the opposite of everyone else here. Rodney, who helped jumpstart Garcia and Hunter's career in the early 60s, would have been treated like backstage royalty at a Dead concert. And he would have built his own axe. So Garcia would have been happy to invite him on stage.

However, I am convinced that if invited on stage to jam, Rodney Albin would have said no. He was a fine old-time fiddle player, but he didn't want to play jamming psychedelic music. He had his chance in that scene in 1966, and he passed. Rodney wasn't going to play a 20-minute jam on "Dark Star," whether Garcia asked or not.

John Tenney also suggested Sid Page as a possible electric violin guest. Page played electric violin with Dan Hicks And The Hot Licks--in fact he had replaced LaFlamme in that group--and Hicks knew everybody from his days in the Charlatans. So Page would have known Garcia, and Garcia would likely have heard him play. However, while Page was a fine musician, I'm not aware of him playing jazz or any sort of improvised music on stage. It doesn't mean he couldn't, just that I'm not aware of Page as a jammer.

The debut album of Austin's Shiva's Headband, Take Me To The Mountains, released on Capitol Records in 1969. Spencer Perskin founded the band and played electric violin.
Spencer Perskin
The most intriguing suggestion that Tenney made was to consider Spencer Perskin. Now, Perskin isn't any sort of household name, but he's a real 60s figure. Perskin was from Austin, TX, and he had founded the group Shiva's Headband. The group was the "house band" at The Vulcan Gas Company, the infamous psychedelic Austin venue. Perskin was a pioneering psychedelic electric violinist, at a time in Texas when it was a scary time to be a hippie in Texas. In 1968, Shiva's Headband had relocated to Berkeley for the Summer, so they were well known around the Bay Area hippie scene. Perskin was close to another fellow former Austin folkie, Janis Joplin, so Perskin was on the inside from the beginning.

Although the chronology is a bit murky, Shiva's Headband released their debut album on Capitol Records in 1969. They also relocated back home to Austin, but exactly when they had done so is uncertain. In any case, whether Shiva's had returned to Austin or not by August '69 (and I think they had), Perskin would have been well-connected with the Dead. If he was in town, or known to be coming by, he was the sort of musician who would be invited to bring his electric violin and sit in. Perskin and Shiva's Headband would go on to be instrumental in founding the next great Austin hippie venue, namely the Armadillo World Headquarters, so there were plenty of ongoing links between Perskin and the Grateful Dead.

Perskin fits the possibilities more than most candidates. Definitely a friend of the band, a well deserved reputation for jamming and the kind of guy who got around. It's worth noting that Perskin's legend is such that he wouldn't need to brag about this, which might explain why he might never have mentioned it (Perskin had a now-deleted website called Outlaws For Peace, well worth seeking out if your Wayback Machine skills are sufficient).

Jerry Goodman played electric violin in The Flock, a Chicago group who released their debut album on Columbia in 1969. Goodman would go on to play in the first Mahavishnu Orchestra and Dixie Dregs.
Jerry Goodman
Another plausible long shot is Jerry Goodman. Goodman is a fabulous musician, best known as the violinist in the original Mahavishnu Orchestra, and later for playing in the Dixie Dregs. He got his start, however, with a Chicago band called The Flock. The Flock were on Columbia, and they were touring around California in support of their first album in July 1969. The Flock had played the Whisky-A-Go-Go in Hollywood in early July, and they had played Fillmore West on July 22-24. As far as I can tell, The Flock's first gig back in Chicago was August 15. So their exact whereabouts are uncertain on August 3, so maybe Goodman came and jammed with the Dead. And maybe he bought The Flock's lead tenor sax player (Tom Webb), too. It's an appealing theory.

Still, Jerry Goodman is a stretch. The Flock were on a Columbia sponsored tour for their debut album, and after the Fillmore West gig, its unlikely that they were just paid to hang around. Perhaps they stayed in town doing some recording in a San Francisco studio. Yet I'm not aware of any social or musical link between The Flock and the Grateful Dead. Goodman might have sounded great with the Dead, but no one got to the Great Highway by accident, so someone would have had to invite him, and I can't see who it might have been. Now, I do have a newspaper clip from the Chronicle showing The Flock opening for the Dead in June 1969, but I believe they were replaced as openers by The Glass Family. But maybe they played one night anyway, or something? In any case, it's not totally impossible that the Dead had seen Goodman play in June (although it is possible they were in no condition to notice).

The Flock would go on to open two Grateful show in New Orleans, the weekend of the infamous bust (January 30-31, 1970). Wolfgang's vault has a tape of The Flock from the second night, and if you're really determined you can listen and decide for yourself if you think Jerry Goodman was the guest.

Sugarcane Harris
My last nominee for the mystery guest on electric violin at the Family Dog on August 3, 1969, is the least likely and the most intriguing of all. I'm no musician, but to my ears, the electric violinist sounds the most like Don "Sugarcane" Harris. Harris (1938-99) was an R&B singer and songwriter in the late 50s, as part of a duo called Don And Dewey. When that partnership broke up, Harris focused on playing the electric violin in jazz and blues ensembles in Los Angeles. Harris had written the song "Big Boy Pete," which was a hit for The Olympics in 1960, and covered on occasion by the Dead (I saw them do it in Oakland on Nov 21 '85).

Most rock fans know Sugarcane Harris, if they know him at all, from his work in the late 1960s with Frank Zappa and The Mothers Of Invention. In particular, Sugarcane's rendition of "Directly From My Heart To You," with his shivering electric violin solo (from Weasels Ripped My Flesh), actually got some FM airplay. Sugarcane also did some great playing on "Little House I Used To Live In" (from Burnt Weeny Sandwich) and Zappa's Hot Rats album. So Sugarcane could play some heavy music.

From what little I can piece together, Harris was difficult to work with because he often didn't show up on time and he never rehearsed. But he was apparently a nice man and a tremendous musician. In 1969 he had been working with John Mayall, who had moved to Los Angeles, so he began working in a more rock-oriented vein. Harris was also in a group with guitarist Harvey Mandel and others called The Pure Food And Drug Act. That group mostly just played around West Coast clubs. Harris did release a couple of solo albums in the early 70s. His first one, Sugarcane (on Epic), had a back cover by Rick Griffin, if you want to grasp at straws (it also had a great opening track, and not much else that was good).

Still, Sugarcane Harris was an actual legend. Whether or not anyone in the Dead knew him, his bona fides would have been stellar--certainly he knew Harvey Mandel and Harvey's word would have been good enough for Jerry. Harris had such a legendary stature that I can imagine Jerry and Pigpen inviting him to jam just because he had known about him for so long. Maybe Harris sounded good on "Hard To Handle," and Jerry just thought, "let's ride with this" and let him stick around. It's certainly true that our mystery violinist has both a weird, reedy tone and the kind of telepathy required to jam with the 1969 Dead on "Dark Star," So maybe Sugarcane was erratic, and maybe he didn't rehearse, and maybe that was exactly what was called for.

For all the intense scholarship and research on the Grateful Dead in the last 50 years, it remains surprising what information remains just beyond our reach. Who were the guests when the Grateful Dead played The Family Dog on The Great Highway on Sunday, August 3, 1969? An electric violinist, a tenor saxophonist, and maybe even an electric guitarist. We have a wonderful tape, and yet we don't know. We don't have any eyewitnesses to the show, or to the extent we do, we don't have any who remember. Of course, I would be happiest if the legendary Sugarcane Harris was there, as a bridge between two worlds, but frankly I would be just as happy to find out who any of the guests were, famous or not, just to close the loop. On that windy Sunday night, at the edge of the North American continent, out by Ocean Beach, the Grateful Dead invited some musicians to jam with them, and great music ensued. We can hear them clearly, yet those guests identities remain shrouded in a foggy haze, seemingly impossible to discern through the mists of time.

August 3, 1969, Family Dog On The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: 
Grateful Dead (plus guests), 

Tuning (Garcia says "hey, Bear's got a banjo!)
Hard To Handle  (plus electric violin)
Beat It On Down The Line  (plus electric violin)
Hi-Heel Sneakers  (plus electric violin and tenor sax. Afterwards, someone says "let's let Dave do one")
High Time
Mama Tried (an additional electric guitarist? David Nelson?)
Dark Star> (plus electric violin and tenor sax)
Alligator> (plus electric violin and tenor sax)
The Other One> (plus electric violin and tenor sax)
Caution (Do Not Stop On Tracks)> (plus electric violin and tenor sax)
And We Bid You Goodnight

Jerry Garcia-lead guitar, vocals
Bob Weir-guitar, vocals
Ron "Pigpen" McKernan-vocals, congas
Tom Constanten-organ
Phil Lesh-bass, vocals
Bill Kreutzmann-drums
Mickey Hart-drums
[unknown]-electric violin
[unknown]-tenor sax
[unknown]-electric guitar (uncertain)


  1. Great list of candidates! It's funny how we keep coming back to this date with more speculations...

    It's quite a find that Charles Lloyd was originally scheduled to play the Family Dog that day.
    In an interesting coincidence, Lloyd, and Albert Collins, and the Flock, had all played at the Seattle Pop Festival a week earlier.

    I believe it's David Nelson taking the guitar solo in Mama Tried. He had played the same solo on 8/2/69 and 6/28/69 (plus there's that reference to "Dave" in the stage banter).
    Not to repeat, I wrote a bit more about Nelson's solo spot here:

    The banjo reference is interesting - Peter Grant had played banjo in the 6/28/69 show, but it's inaudible on tape, and he might also be playing but inaudible in a song here. Then again, the banjo could just be non-sequitur banter and nobody was going to play it.

    There are a surprising number of people who *could* have played violin with the Dead. For the record, a couple other violin candidates that have been mentioned:
    - David Freiberg of Quicksilver, who could play violin & viola. He played viola on Quicksilver's The Fool, and also on Garcia's Loser rehearsal in the PERRO sessions.
    However, there's a big difference between occasional studio playing and jamming live in a Dark Star, and I'm not aware of Freiberg ever playing a violin onstage after high school!
    - Ed Bogas. Commenter runonguinness wrote, "Although mainly an arranger later on (he arranged the strings for Weir's Ace and the Rowans) he did play violin, including with Garcia on Lamb's Cross Between. He was involved with Clover, Country Joe, and Jack Bonus and had fiddled with the Liberty Hill Aristocrats, so moved in the right circles. I have no idea if his sound fits the playing on this show."
    But again, we don't know if he ever played electric violin live.

    Finally, I think the list of restrictions on who musicians might jam with onstage doesn't necessarily apply to the Dead in the '60s. Thinking of the dreadful harmonica player at Monterey Pop, or the "blues" singer in Phoenix 3/8/70, it seems the Dead in those days didn't always require guests to know the music or even know how to play!
    There are a variety of other flute, harmonica, or organ players spotted in some '60s Dead shows, and we have no idea who they are - probably the Dead knew them, but there's still an evident "anyone can join in" spirit that faded by the more professional '70s.

    1. LIA, great comments as always. I know Nelson had a "B-Bender" (Parsons-White Stringbender) on his Fender guitar, so it makes sense that we hear that sound on both Aug 2 and Aug 3. For those who don't know, a B-Bender bends the B string (using the shoulder strap) to give the string a pedal steel sound.

      Ed Bogas is a great suggestion. It's true I'm not aware of him playing violin live, but he was a friend with the chops.

      As to people wandering on stage to play bad harmonica, I agree those things happened, but I think they were mistakes. They were far more likely to happen out on the road with fewer friends and crew to provide security.

  2. Man oh man, I love this so much. I have no information or even speculation to provide. I love this set of music, think the sax player acquits himself quite well, and I haven't the foggiest idea who it might have been. I love this little mystery!

  3. Fantastic article. I went to download and discovered I'd already done it months ago.
    Upon first listening I would choose Jerry Goodman.

  4. One small but interesting and possibly significant fact about the "violin" is that it might in fact be a viola. On "Hard to Handle" whoever's playing quite clearly goes at least as low as F#3 (e.g. around 4 min in), a tritone below middle C, when a violin's normal range is only down to G3, a half step above that. F#3 is well within the normal range of a viola, however. But it's not unusual for violinists to tune down their lowest string to get notes they couldn't otherwise play so it's hardly conclusive proof that it is a viola. I'm not an orchestral string player so the timbre's not cluing me in one way or the other. And I haven't listened through the whole show to see if there's any playing that is in violin-only range. But if it were decided that viola rather than violin was a likely possibility then does anyone know of any hip viola players in the Bay Area at this time? I certainly don't.

    1. Melvin, thanks for this. A cello player told me he thought it was a viola, nice to get some formal definition of what we are hearing.

      If its a viola player and not a violinist, it's even more confusing. The logical choice would seem to be David Freiberg (QMS bassist), a friend and trained violist, but there are no known examples of him playing electric viola on stage. I don't think he was a fluid jammer on viola. It all adds to the mystery.

  5. What I find striking is just how familiar both the guests seem to be with Dark Star: they not only *very* fluently fit their lines into the melodic thread of the music, but they both seem to be aware of the little composed parts, moreso than even an expert musician with excellent ears who would only need to hear a melody once. Right now, my theory is that the mystery guests had to have heard the Dead play it before (either in person or on record), which certainly limits the options... but I'm still not sure.

    I have no one new to contribute for now, but for completeness' sake, here is the relevant info I got from emailing Michael White two years ago (now 87 yrs old; his birthday was yesterday, actually!) -- the info came from his partner Leisei Chen, who asked White and relayed his responses:

    "Michael does not recall that he ever played with the Grateful Dead. However he remembers the Grateful Dead, and they had the same lawyer Brian Lohan." [sidenote: hmmm...] "We listened to the recording and found the review below [referring to an LMA review that mentions David LaFlamme]... Michael met and remember David LaFlamme who is a violinist seems like was on that recording."

    I responded that the info LaFlamme was just speculation and asked, "would Michael possibly have any recollection of any other jazz violinists around San Francisco around that time (1969) who might have accepted an invitation to sit in with an improvising rock band? The violinist on that recording clearly sounds like a talented jazz artist... it doesn't seem like there were too many violinists around San Francisco at that time who fit that description."

    And her response: "Michael said no idea who is the violinist on that Grateful Dead recording. You are right Michael told me too back when he came up there is no modern Jazz violinist around in the Bay Area, so he needed to invent on his own and contributed many things to make Violin as a leading instrument for modern music for modern times."

  6. and, if it's any help, I have an interview with Fierro (mid-2000's) where he dates his first meeting with Garcia to sitting in at one of the Howard Wales jams at the Matrix, and specifies that Hooteroll was recorded later.

  7. I find a listing for Shiva's Headband playing 9/17/69 at the Bull's Eye Tavern in Monterey, not the kind of gig for which one would fly back from Texas. I also note that the SH drummer is one of the players on the 11/23/72 Armadillo World jam session, FWIW.

    1. A very good find. This means, at the very least, that Shiva's Headband was on the road, and not just parked in Austin. Thus it's plausible they could have been in SF in August.

      Since the band had been in Berkeley in the Summer of 68, they had a sort of following around the Bay Area. Certainly getting out of Texas to head to Northern California in August and September makes lots of sense.

    2. I was recently listening through some '69 Dark Stars and came across this show for the first time. I have only listened to a few minutes or it, but right away that horn grabbed my attention and got me searching. I spent most of the morning reading through this article and all of the comments. Amazing research as always. I'm only five years late.

      I checked a few sources for Shiva's Headband and I found an entry on that has them playing Aug 2nd at the Vulcan Gas Co in Austin, which would make it less likely for them to be at the Family Dog the next night. No source info is included. I suspect this could be easily confirmed with a quick scan through the Austin-American Statesman archives from that week before.

      I don't have a current subscription but they seem to have a complete collection for that time period. I have done some other research a while back and was amazed to find the Statesman is a rare 'straight news' publication that has both columns and adverts that cover the local music scene.

  8. Yep. A little cooler out on the Edge of the Western World.

  9. sounds like laflamme. plus if you can remember it, you were not actually there...

  10. Thanks for this investigation and all of your other columns. Great reads and inspirations to check out "new" Dead and other artists. Cheers to your inquiry efforts and communal spirit.

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  14. A couple of things. Jack Bonus & Steve Schuster are the same person.
    My guess for the violin player is John Weider of the Animals fame who was living in the bay area at the time.

    1. Erick, thanks for weighing in. I used to think Jack Bonus and Steve Schuster were the same person, but Schuster sent me a very convincing email explaining that they were indeed different people.

      I love the idea of John Weider as the electric violinist. He would have known the Dead from being in the Animals, and he was indeed based in California.

      Weider was suggested to me before, however, so I looked into it. While (the psychedelic) Animals had broken up in late 68, and Weider had remained in LA, he joined Family for their American tour in April 1968 Rick Gretch had left Family to join Blind Faith, so Weider had to pick up the tour in Detroit.

      Weider remained in Family for the next two years (and played on some great albums, I should note). In Summer '69, Family were touring heavily. On Monday July 28 they played a BBC show in London, and then that night in Plymouth. On Monday and Tuesday, August 4-5, Family played the Marguee.

      I guess its faintly possible that Weider flew to California, played with the Dead on Sunday night, and flew back to London for the Marquee gig, but I'm not a buyer of this theory.

      I'm still in the Spencer Perskin camp for now.

  15. If Nelson was there maybe Sandy Rothman was there too.