|Brent Mydland in 1984|
Unlike every prior member of the Grateful Dead, when Brent Mydland joined the band in 1979, he had been a working rock musician for at least 5 years. He had played on albums with a major label, and wrote songs on one as well. As for the prior members, only Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart had any kind of performing experience on the instrument they actually played with the band, and Hart had mostly played rock music as a sideshow in the Air Force. Hart had recorded a few singles (in Spain in 1964), but the rest of the players made their studio debuts with the Warlocks or The Grateful Dead. Sure, Donna Jean Godchaux (nee Thatcher) was a professional studio singer in the 1960s, but ironically she had never performed live as a professional singer. Brent, younger than the rest of the band, had already been doing that thing for several years.
OK, sure, interviews with Brent were few and limited. Tragically, Brent made the final load-out before anyone expected, and there was no time to ask him about some missing pieces. Even so, a fair amount is known about his career prior to the Grateful Dead. So on one hand, this post is a summary of the known touch points of Brent Mydland's professional career. At a higher level, however, this story is a meditation about how a shy, talented guy from a very out-of-the-way town ended up in the Grateful Dead, through no fault of his own save for talent and luck. Brent's talent isn't in dispute. You can decide for yourself if his luck was good or bad.
|Bob Weir's second solo album, Heaven Help The Fool, released on Arista Records in January 1978|
In October 1978, Weir reconvened the Bob Weir Band, albeit with a different bass player. They played a few local shows, and then a three-day weekend of shows with the Jerry Garcia Band in the Pacific Northwest. Weir, Garcia and the rest of the Dead had apparently been contemplating the idea of replacing Kieth and Donna Godchaux. Although Garcia had definitely met Brent (documented by David Browne in So Many Roads p.277), he had almost certainly had not seen him play live. The apocryphal story was that after seeing Brent play with the Weir Band in Portland, Garcia told Bob "this guy might work." Brent started rehearsing with the Grateful Dead in late March of 1979.
|A poster for the Bob Weir Band, including Brent Mydland, performance at the Franklin Pierce College Fieldhouse in Rindge, NH on March 4, 1978|
Bobby Cochran-lead guitar, vocalsI believe that Heaven Help The Fool was recorded in the Summer of 1977. Mickey Hart had injured himself in an auto accident, and a lot of Dead shows were canceled, so Weir would have been available. The album was produced by Keith Olsen, who had recorded the Fleetwood Mac hit album Rumors and also Terrapin Station. It's important to remember that in mid-1977 many of the best-selling album acts were old Fillmore stalwarts who had simplified their traditional approach with a healthy dose of radio-friendly production. Prominent examples were not only the Mac, but Steve Miller Band, Boz Scaggs and Jefferson Starship. The idea that photogenic rock and roller Bob Weir had serious commercial potential was a pretty sound one.
Bob Weir-rhythm guitar, vocals
Brent Mydland-organ, keyboards, harmony vocals
Some interviews with lead guitarist Bobby Cochran suggest that the band was being put together in November/December 1977. The Dead, and thus Weir, had no gigs between November 6 and December 27. One-off touring bands cost money to put together, so this suggests a timeline of a December '77 tour. That only makes sense if the album was going to come out before Christmas (it actually came out in January of '78). Nonetheless it seems that the Bob Weir Band was put together in November 1977, but did not tour until February of 1978.
Lead guitarist Bobby Cochran was introduced to Bob Weir by Ibanez executive Jeff Hasselberger, who had been working on guitar ideas with Weir. Per Cochran, from a Jake Feinberg interview, the band already existed when Cochran joined. The band leader was drummer John Mauceri. Mauceri had brought in bassist Rick Carlos and Brent on keyboards. For whatever reasons, the tour and album were delayed until the first of the year. So John Mauceri had brought Brent to the Weir Band, and set the wheels in motion for him to end up joining the Grateful Dead.
John Mauceri was an excellent drummer, and probably still is, but his understated style made him an excellent hired gun who never took the spotlight. If you had no life in the 1970s, and spent a lot of time in record stores memorizing the backs of albums (reflecting on no one in particular), his name turned up here and there, but for the most part he was a well-regarded but semi-anonymous professional. For this story, Mauceri turns out to be the key link between Grateful Dead and Brent Mydland, but for no other reason than the fact that Mauceri grew up in Las Vegas.
In late Summer 1977, Mauceri got a call saying that he had been recommended by David Lindley for the drum chair in the Jerry Garcia Band. Much as I love the idea of Jer calling up Mr. Dave and asking for a scouting report, I don't think that's what happened. John Kahn was the JGB straw boss, and he would have asked a producer, very likely his old pal Michael Stewart. Stewart, who had produced Billy Joel ("Piano Man") and Tom Jones, among others, was probably the one who checked in with Lindley.
As it happened, David Lindley was effectively Jackson Browne's band leader, and Mauceri had been Browne's drummer since 1976. Browne toured relentlessly, so Lindley had plenty to go on. While I don't think Lindley was personally close to the Grateful Dead, Kaleidoscope has shared bills with the Dead many times in the 60s, so surely Garcia was aware of him. Anyway, Lindley had been the banjo champion five years running at the Ash Grove folk club (after which he was made a judge), so that had to count for something.
According to Mauceri, in a remarkable 2014 interview with Jake Feinberg (excerpted below), Mauceri said he got to the point of starting to learn Garcia Band songs, only to find out that he was not going to be the JGB drummer. Although Buzz Buchanan got the Garcia chair, Mauceri's bona fides were in turn passed on to Weir, and he was Bob's first hire. In turn, Mauceri hired two old band mates, both from the the distant East Bay town of--I kid you not--Brentwood. Rick Carlos joined the Bob Weir Band as bass player, and Brent Mydland joined on organ. Mydland and Carlos had been playing together since Liberty Union High School in Brentwood, where Brent had graduated from in 1971. Mydland, Carlos and Mauceri had all played together in a group called Batdorf & Rodney, and after that in a band called Silver.
|The Silver lp cover, released on Arista Rcords in 1976. The cover design was by future SNL player Phil Hartmann, whose brother John co-managed Silver|
Silver played "AOR" (album oriented radio) rock, kind of like Kansas or REO Speedwagon. They were a little less rockin' than those two, however, and were probably aimed more in a sensitive vein, like Fleetwood Mac. The front line trio of Brent and guitarists John Batdorf and Greg Collier all sang and wrote, and the harmonies were well done. Brent wrote and sang two songs on the album. It was OK, fairly typical of the many carefully sculpted albums promoted by record companies at the time, but nothing special. Certainly nothing that hinted at Brent's future contribution to the Grateful Dead.
Originally, Silver was supposed to include Rick Carlos and John Mauceri on bass and drums, but they were somehow forced out, according to Mauceri (replaced with Tom Leadon-bass and Harry Stinson-drums). I don't know how much touring Silver did, but they did play on some big national dates supporting the group America (you can see the dates listed here, on the great GDSets site). The connection seems to have been the management team of Hartmann and Goodman, who appear to have managed both America and Silver. In any case, the pairing tells you who their management thought would buy the Silver album.
Of the known dates listed for America and Silver, it's interesting to see that Brent had already played at some of the venues that he would play with the Dead in the future. Some examples include War Memorial Auditorium in Syracuse, SPAC in Saratoga Springs, McNicols in Denver and the San Diego Sports Arena. Silver seems to have ground to a halt in mid-1977, once they were dropped by Arista.
The only real research about Brent's life during the Silver period was done by David Browne, for his indispensable book So Many Roads (pp.276-280). It appears that after Silver disintegrated, Brent went home to stay in a house in Concord owned by his father. He was living with his girlfriend, and apparently not doing much of anything, when he got a call out of the blue from John Mauceri, inviting him to play for the Bob Weir Band. It was the Las Vegas connection of Mauceri that had made it happen.
|The 1971 debut album on Atlantic by Batdorf and Rodney, Off The Shelf. John Batdorf wrote the songs, he and Mark Rodney both sang and picked guitar, session guys filled out the sound.|
Drummer John Mauceri had grown up in Las Vegas, in a "showbiz" family. His father was a classically trained percussionist, so when young John discovered rock 'n' roll, falling into playing drums was easy. After a brief sojourn to Los Angeles, soon after graduating high school in 1970, Mauceri had to return home to his family in Las Vegas. He reconnected with Mark Rodney, whom he had known earlier. Mark was the son of trumpeter Red Rodney, a jazz legend who had been the only white member of Charlie Parker's groundbreaking bebop quintet from 1949-51. After various difficulties, Red had moved to Las Vegas.
Mark Rodney had been playing in Las Vegas venues with John Batdorf, playing their guitars and singing Batdorf's original songs. In 1970, this is what was happening. Batdorf and Rodney were playing in Las Vegas venues--I'm not quite sure exactly where--and got signed by Atlantic. They put out their debut album, Off The Shelf, in 1971 and were set to go on the road. So they needed a band. Mauceri got the call, because he knew Mark Rodney and he was a drummer. Mauceri in turn called bassist Rick Carlos, whom he had known from earlier. The live band was then:
John Batdorf-guitar and vocals
Mark Rodney-guitar and vocals
Rick Carlos-bassJohn Mauceri-drums
|Batdorf & Rodney, the second album by the duo, was released in 1972 on Asylum Records|
In the 1970s, the record business made a lot of money, so much so that record companies could justify keeping promising bands going, even if they weren't actually playing anywhere. In 1973, Batdorf & Rodney seemed to ground to a halt. So much so, that their rhythm section went on tour with David Blue, another Asylum artist. On August 11, 1973, at Winterland, I saw Mauceri and Carlos as part of Blue's band (along with future Eagles guitarist Don Felder). They were supporting Blue's album Nice Baby and The Angel, produced by Graham Nash. Nash himself joined Blue for a few numbers at Winterland that night (Blue was fourth on the bill below Poco, Mark-Almond and Robin Trower--a really great show, by the way).
|Life Is You, Batdorf & Rodney's third album, was released on Arista Records in 1975. Brent Mydland plays some uncredited parts on the album|
Most people who remember Batdorf & Rodney recall them as a sort of Seals & Crofts type duo, with a soft rock vibe. Apparently, however, the duo saw their music as more like the Doobie Brothers, with twin guitars and a jumping rhythm section. Brent Mydland's contribution on organ sound a lot more interesting in that context, but I know of no live recordings of Batdorf & Rodney from the 1974-75 Brent era. It was Arista boss Clive Davis who wanted the duo to sound like Seals & Crofts, and insured that every guitar solo was cut out, and the rocking minimized.
Batdorf & Rodney weren't huge, but they had a following, and they toured a far amount. Mauceri (in the Feinberg interview) speaks highly of Brent's playing, as does John Batdorf (when interviewed by Browne). Both of them, however, say that Brent did not compromise well, and did not really have the "take-it-as-it-comes" vibe of most traveling musicians. According to Browne, Brent had a lot of anxiety, and sometimes disappeared for a few days at a time. Batdorf & Rodney was just five guys in a van, plus maybe a roadie or two. The Grateful Dead circus was several magnitudes of The Crazy more than that, so it must have been hard on Brent. That being said, he never missed a Dead gig that I know of.
The 1975 Batdorf & Rodney album on Arista, Life Is You, was recorded with session players. Rick Carlos does play on it, but I think most of the record was recorded before the duo put the touring band back together. In late 1974, when they decided they needed a keyboard player, Rick Carlos recommended Brent, with whom he had played back in bands back in High School.
According to John Mauceri, Brent did a little uncredited work on the album. Batdorf & Rodney did released a single in 1975, however, that had not been on the record. Apparently the touring band played on it, so if you come across the single "Somewhere In The Night" (Arista 1975 b/w "Ain't It Like Home" album track), it could be a lost Brent artifact.
Soon after he joined Batdorf & Rodney, Brent got together with Cherie Barsin, who was John Batdorf's sister-in-law. The two of them lived in a trailer in Thousand Oaks, between Oxnard and Los Angeles. At home, Brent liked playing board games and listening to jazz and classical music. Per Cherie Barsin (via Browne) "his preferences were Chick Corea, Jeff Beck. Nothing with lyrics." When Batdorf & Rodney ground to a halt, Brent joined Batdorf's next venture, which was Silver. Mauceri and Carlos got pushed out of Silver, for whatever reasons, but they did not forget Brent's playing.
|Jethro Tull's great album Benefit was released in April, 1970. In May, John Mauceri and Rick Carlos' band Terracotta opened for them in Las Vegas|
|Correspondent Eric sends a photo from the 1968 Liberty Union HS Yearbook, with freshman Brent Mydland (circled) and his trumpet|
- Brent graduated from Liberty Union High School in 1971
- Rick Carlos played in bands with him in those days
Esteemed scholar LightIntoAshes noted that Blair Jackson, ahead of the curve as always, interviewed Brent Mydland on October 21, 1987, for the Fall 1987 issue of Golden Road Magazine. The indispensable GDSets has scanned the entire issue, and the whole interview is worth reading. But here are the backstory highlights, clarifying some hitherto unknown points:
[Germany] We moved to Antioch when I was 1, so I don’t remember Germany.
[Do you remember your first band?]
The first thing you could almost call a band? Yeah. We played a few bars on the river [in the Sacramento River Delta region] for small crowds. We did things like”When A Man Loves A Woman,” “For What It’s Worth.” We even did that Arlo Guthrie song “I don’t want a pickle/I just wanna ride my motor-sickle.” Anything with just two or three chords, cause most of the guys couldn’t play anything harder.
I had a little Thomas organ you could barely hear. A couple of years later I got a Gibson Kalamazoo,, which was sort of like a Farfisa…I was even in a band where I used to sing “Morning Dew.”
In my junior year in high school [at Liberty], there was me and one other guy who had long hair, and by “long” I mean the length I have it now [ca. 1987]. I got kicked out of school for long hair just before finals. I stayed out for a few days and then decided it wasn’t worth having to repeat a semester for that, so I got my hair cut. They said “Sorry, not short enough.” They mad me get a crew cut before they’d let me back in to take my finals. This was at Liberty High in Brentwood. SO I took my finals and then moved to Concord where you could have long hair in school [for Contra Costa in the 60s, Concord was hip]. I didn’t cut my hair for a long time after that.
Senior year I got thrown out of the high school band for long hair anyway: “Sorry, we’ll lose points for your long hair.” So that was the end of my band career. I gave up trumpet and concentrated on keyboards.
[What did you do right after high school?]
Senior year I got together with this guitar player named Dave DeMille who’d come up here from Southern California and went to another high school in Concord. The day after we graduated  we drove down to L.A. and tried to get a band started down there. He knew a drummer and bass player who were pretty good. We were serious about it for about the first six weeks or so and then it kind of fell apart…I ended up living alone in a Quonset Hut in Thousand Oaks, writing songs and eating a lot of peanut butter and jelly…
Eventually I came back to the Bay Area and lived with my dad and just jammed around for a couple of years. I played with a lot of different people. We’d have these jams that would turn into parties with like 300 people and we’d play until the police would break it up. Then I started playing in bands hat actually made some money, mainly playing Top 40 clubs. This was around ’72, I guess, and it was mainly black music.
[Did you ever have to wear matching suits?]
Yeah, for a couple of months once. It was really embarrassing. I hated it. II’d rather not dwell on that [laughs].
The best music I played back then was with this guy who’d gone to the Berklee School of Music [in Boston] and wrote this interesting music that sounded like John McLaughlin. We tried to get a band together and actually had some really nice music, but we never could get any gigs. I learned a lot from it but we couldn’t earn any money. So I ended up going back to playing rock ’n’ roll, though in cooler clubs, where we could play some originals.
In one of the bands, I [had] played with a bass player named Rick Carlos, and he got a call from John Batdorf of Batdorf & Rodney asking him to come to L.A. to play with them. A couple of months later they were looking for keyboard player who could sing high parts so I went down there and checked that out an joined the band, which was a great experience.
Brent has compressed the Batfdorf& Rodney timeline a bit (Rick Carlos had been playing with B&R for two years), but we now see the essential thread.
- Brent grew up in Antioch, or thereabouts
- He went to Liberty Union High in Brentwood, but graduated from a Concord high school
- He played in various obscure bands from 1971-74, playing both originals and covers
- Rick Carlos played in one of those bands around 1971-72, and doesn't appear to be from Brentwood
|Besides playing in the Grateful Dead, Brent Mydland played on the 1981 debut album by Bobby And The Midnites|
In 1987, "Touch Of Grey" hit big time. The Grateful Dead were a huge concert attraction, and Brent had songwriting credits on the album. Brent co-wrote more songs on the next album, Built To Last. Suddenly, from living hand-to-mouth, money was rolling in. John Mauceri, by his own admission, had spent the 1970s and the early part of the 80s drunk and stoned. Drinking was one of the things he had shared with Brent. Mauceri always stayed with Brent when he was in the Bay Area, but by the end of the 80s, a sober Mauceri would try to reach out to not-sober Brent, but he couldn't get through. Brent had everything he could have ever wanted, and it all crashed down around him.
You may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
You may ask yourself, "Well, how did I get here?"
We did some shows with the Garcia Band, and Bob and Jerry got to hear Brent.
Sweet Surprise - Eric Andersen (Arista 4075) Brent Mydland sings on
"Crazy River" and "Dreams Of Mexico" on this 1975 release. This is
prior to Brent Mydland joining the Grateful Dead.
Silver - Silver (Arista 4076) A pre-Grateful Dead Brent Mydland plays
on this 1975 release. Brent Mydland was in this band before he joined
the Grateful Dead. Two of Mydland's songs appear on this album:
"Musician (Not An Easy Life)" and "Climbing". Prior to Silver,
Mydland had been with Batdorf and Rodney.
A Wing And A Prayer - Matt Kelly (Relix RRLP 2010) With Jerry Garcia,
Bob Weir, Billy Kreutzmann, Brent Mydland, and Keith Godchaux. It
includes "Over And Over" (3:38), co-written with Brent Mydland.
- Go Ahead ( ) This unreleased album includes "Nobody's", written by
Brent Mydland, which was broadcast on the "Grateful Dead Hour".
Members included: Jerry Cortez (guitars), Bill Kreutzman (drums),
Alex Ligertwood (vocals), Brent Mydland (keyboards and vocals), and
Dave Margen (bass).
- Brent Mydland ( ) Mydland recorded and mastered a solo album, but
it was never released. Intended for this album were "Tons Of Steel",
with Monty Byron on guitar, a rock arrangement of "Maybe You Know",
"Nobody's", "Long Way To Go", and "Dreams". Betty Cantor-Jackson did
the engineering and production for this album. Other songs possibly
intended for this "album" are "Inlay It In Your Heart", "See The Other
Side", and "Take One". These comprise about 40 minutes of music.
Some of the tapes that circulate in trading circles list a date of
February 25, 1982. The possible songs slated for the album were
"Inlay It In Your Heart", "Tons Of Steel", "Dreams", "Maybe You Know
(How I Feel)", "Nobody's", "See The Other Side", "Long Way To Go", and
"Take One". A tape of the original version of "Tons Of Steel" was
played during the intermission of the Dead's June 21, 1984 broadcast
from Toronto. Brent Mydland authored several songs, including "Fire",
in 1987. Songs, in collaboration with John Perry Barlow, include
"You're Still There", "Love Doesn't Have To Be Pretty", "It Doesn't
Matter", and "It Is What It Is". Songs, in collaboration with Matt
Kelly, include "If That's The Way", "Over And Over", and "Shining
Down In The Groove - Bob Dylan (Columbia OC 40957) Garcia, Weir, and
Mydland sing backup on "Silvio". Hunter wrote "Silvio" (3:06) and
"Ugliest Girl In The World" (3:32). Released on May 30, 1988. Some
verses of "Silvio" originally appeared as verses in "Black Muddy
River", dated September 14, 1986.
New Frontier - New Frontier (Polydor 835695) Brent Mydland plays
keyboards on "Motel Rain" on this California's band debut album from
September, 1988. The band includes Timothy B. Schmidt, David Lindley,
and Paulheno Dacosta. Out of print.
Mahalo - Bill Kreutzmann (http://www.ocean-spirit.net, 2003) This CD
was released as a complimentary CD and not for sale or public
broadcast. The cover artwork is "Sun Sun" by Bill Kreutzmann. The
five tracks on the CD are: "Girl Like You" (Jennings/Seals) (4:06),
recorded at Front Street on July 24, 1985 by BBDK (Bill Kreutzmann,
David Margen, Brent Mydland, and Kevin Russell); "Are You Lonely For
Me" (Berns) (21:42), from a live performance by Garcia/Saunders
(Martin Fierro, Jerry Garcia, John Kahn, Bill Kreutzmann, and Merl
Saunders) at the Keystone in Berkeley on January 17, 1974 with ;
"10,000 Mics" (Dipirro/Kreutzmann/Woodson) (8:58) by the Trichromes
(Mike Dipirro, Sy Klopps, Bill Kreutzmann, and Ralph Woodson) at the
Sy Klopps Studios on March 30, 2002; "Hey Jude > Dear Mr. Fantasy"
(14:47) by Go Ahead (Jerry Cortez, Bill Kreutzmann, Alex Ligertwood,
David Margen, and Brent Mydland) at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic,
New Jersey on October 31, 1986; and "Eyes Of The World" (9:41) by The
Dead (Rob Barraco, Jeff Chimenti, Mickey Hart, Jimmy Herring, Bill
Kreutzmann, Phil Lesh, Joan Osborne, and Bob Weir) at a rehearsal on
May 27, 2003.
The Twilight Zone (CBS Broadcasting, 1985) The Grateful Dead and Merl
Saunders, with Bob Bralove, wrote a number of the scores for this
series which premiered on September 27, 1985. The main and end titles
music is by the Grateful Dead. This TV series, produced by Phil
DeGuere, was broadcast in 1985 and 1986. The opening theme piano
music is Merl Saunders and Brent Mydland playing together. Robert
Hunter had been hired to write the introductions to each episode, and
had been considered to do the voice-over as well. One of the
agreements between CBS Entertainment and Grateful Dead Productions
(i.e., the band members) is dated June 12, 1985. Individual band
members recorded a number of stings and bumpers that were used to
present different moods in the programs.
The Heroes Journey: The World of Joseph Campbell ( ) Premiered on
May 29, 1987 in Los Angeles at a benefit for the Hermes Society. The
soundtrack includes Mickey Hart, Jerry Garcia, and Brent Mydland
Nobody's - Go Ahead ( ) The video for this song by Brent Mydland was
directed by Justin Kreutzmann and Gian-Carlo Coppola.
Transformation Of Myth Through Time - Joseph Campbell ( ) Music
composed by Rand Weatherwax, and performed by David Jenkins on guitar,
Brent Mydland on piano, and Jerry Garcia on banjo. Broadcast on PBS
The Music Never Stopped (2011) This film, directed by Jim Kohlberg,
was released on March 18, 2011. It is adapted from the essay "The
Last Hippie" by Oliver Sacks. The Grateful Dead are played by actors
Phil Bender (Jerry Garcia), Rich Campbell (Bob Weir), Buzz Roddy (Bill
Kreutzmann), Ethan F. Hamburg (Phil Lesh), Mark Greenberg (Mickey
Hart), and Paul Sigrist (Brent Mydland). The soundtrack includes
several Grateful Dead songs: "Uncle John's Band", "Sugar Magnolia"
(live), "Not Fade Away / Goin' Down The Road Feeling Bad" (live),
"Truckin'" (live), "Touch Of Grey" (live), and "Ripple".