Saturday, May 30, 2020

Formation of The Bob Weir Band-Fall 1977 (Enter Brent)

Brent Mydland in 1984

The World Historical Nature of the Grateful Dead has led to a slow explosion of scholarship in the previous few decades. One powerful strain of Dead research looks into the formative experiences and early musical careers of the band members, in order to better understand the music they made in the Dead. I myself have made great efforts to contribute to these studies. Strangely, however, very little effort has been made to contemplate the pre-Dead history of Brent Mydland. Brent had the longest run of any Grateful Dead keyboard player, probably played the most shows--at least on keyboards--and is fondly remembered by any fans who were lucky enough to see him with the group. Yet his pre-history is generally shrugged off in a few sentences.

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

Heaven Help The Fool
In order to traverse the circuitous path that led Brent Mydland to the Grateful Dead, it's easier to start at the key moment, namely October 26, 1978. Bob Weir had formed a band to tour in support of his Arista solo album Heaven Help The Fool. The album had been released in January 1978, and per record company orthodoxy, Weir had then played a few dozen dates across the country in February and March. Live, the Bob Weir Band played the entire album, plus a few choice covers and a couple of songs that Deadheads recognized as "Weir songs." Brent Mydland was the keyboard player, mainly playing Hammond organ, and shared harmony vocal duties with lead guitarist Bobby Cochran.

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

The Bob Weir Band: February>June 1978

Bobby Cochran-lead guitar, vocals
Bob Weir-rhythm guitar, vocals
Brent Mydland-organ, keyboards, harmony vocals
Rick Carlos-bass
John Mauceri-drums
I 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.

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-Drums
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

It was strange coincidence that prior to joining the Grateful Dead, Brent Mydland had recorded one album with a group, and that group was on Arista Records. I don't think Arista had any contractual hold on Brent, it's just one of those strange coincidences. Silver released their lone album on Arista sometime in 1976.

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.

Batdorf & Rodney
In the early 70s, one popular format favored by record companies was two long-haired dudes playing acoustic guitars and singing in harmony. Seals and Croft, Loggins and Messina, Zager and Evans, Crosby and Nash, the list goes on and on. More broadly, you can see this as a variation on groups like Crosby, Stills and Nash and America, only with fewer members. There were a lot of these groups, mostly forgotten, a few just partially remembered. If you spent a lot of the 70s in your local record store, flipping through albums, you will sort of remember Batdorf & Rodney. They weren't big, but they weren't obscure, either. As it happened, they put out an album on Atlantic, one on Asylum and another one on Arista. They turn out to be essential to the Brent Mydland saga.

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-bass
John Mauceri-drums

The first big tour for Batdorf and Rodney was opening for the band Bread, who were huge at the time. No one recalls Bread now, but they had huge "soft rock" hits with songs like "If," "Make It With You" and "Baby I'm A Want You," to name a few. The Batdorf & Rodney live quartet was steered right at the Bread demographic.

Batdorf & Rodney, the second album by the duo, was released in 1972 on Asylum Records

Come 1972, Batdorf & Rodney had moved from Atlantic to Asylum. The album was recorded at the Record Plant in Los Angeles, with John Mauceri and Rick Carlos on the tracks. So even though Batdorf & Rodney were pitched as a duo by their record company, they were acting like a band in the studio.

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

By 1974, Batdorf and Rodney were reactivated again, this time signed to Clive Davis' Arista Records. For the new live configuration, the band needed a keyboard player. Rick Carlos called his old high school pal Brent Mydland, and Brent got the gig.  What music was Brent playing between graduating high school in 1971, and joining Batdorf & Rodney in 1974? For that matter, when did he get a Hammond organ? You don't learn that instrument overnight, however good a piano player you might be. Was he in a band? Did he jam with anyone or hang out? No one seems to have any information until 1974.

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
John Mauceri had grown up in Las Vegas as part of a showbiz family. His mother was a dancer and ice skater, and his father was a singer/dj/comedian. His stepfather was a classical percussionist, and while he wasn't really a drummer, there were drums around the house. Once Mauceri heard The Beatles, all he wanted to do was drum. He took some vibraphone lessons, but he wanted to be a drummer. His family lived near the great Buddy Rich, and Mauceri used to hear him practice, but he just wanted to rock. This would have been around 1967, and there was no FM radio.

A band called Terracotta, from the East Bay, turned up in Las Vegas. They were mostly "emancipated" (legal adults), but they were Mauceri's age. Their drummer split on them, and they had heard about Mauceri some how, so he joined Terracotta. They played around a lot, and even opened for Jethro Tull and Spirit, so this must have been 1970 (per Ministry Of Truth, Jethro Tull played Las Vegas on May 9, 1970). The day Mauceri graduated high school, Terracotta moved to Los Angeles. They broke up a month later. Mauceri was crestfallen and returned home to Las Vegas.

When Mauceri returned home, he reconnected (in his words) with his birth father. So he also connected, or re-connected, with guitarist Mark Rodney. As noted, Mark Rodney was the son of famous jazz trumpeter Red Rodney, so he too was from a "showbiz" family. In any case, Rodney played guitar and had teamed up with another singing guitarist John Batdorf. They had been playing around as a duo, and they had gotten signed to Atlantic, so they needed a band. Mauceri was in as a drummer--did he know a bass player? Yes he did.

Mauceri called the former bassist for Terracotta, Rick Carlos. Carlos didn't have a gig, mainly because Terracotta had broken up. It's not entirely certain to me whether Carlos came to Las Vegas, or met Batdorf, Rodney and Mauceri in Los Angeles. For our story, however, it doesn't matter. A long forgotten East Bay band called Terracotta, featuring a bunch of legal-adult-teenagers, was how Rick Carlos ended up playing bass for a Las Vegas group with an Atlantic Records contract. Brent Mydland, a senior from Liberty Union High School in Brentwood, now had his unlikely path to join the Grateful Dead. If Mauceri had called someone else, it wouldn't have been Brent, because Rick Carlos had played with Brent in high school.

Liberty Union High School, in Brentwood, CA, sometime in the 20th century
Liberty Union High School, Brentwood, CA
You can look up Liberty Union High School, now Liberty High School. The most famous alumni from that school is Brent Mydland. There's no need to name the school after him, though--Liberty Union High School was in the then-tiny Contra Costa County town of Brentwood, so the town is already named after him.

In the conventional thumbnail biographies of Brent Mydland, it's always mentioned that he grew up in Concord, CA, an East Bay town just North of Walnut Creek. It's reasonable to assume that when Brent's family first came to the Bay Area, they lived in Concord. Since Brent went to Liberty Union HS, however, we know he had to live near Brentwood, and not Concord. Concord was two high schools away.

Back in the 20th century, people who grew up, lived or worked in San Francisco, Oakland or Berkeley largely ignored anything in Contra Costa County beyond Walnut Creek, and sometimes the Concord Pavilion. Anything North of Walnut Creek was often vaguely referred to as "Concord," even if it was 10 or 20 miles East of Concord proper (the comparison is Brooklynites who say "anything above Columbus Circle is Upstate New York"). I was as guilty of this as anyone. I heard that Brent was from Concord, or maybe Antioch, and couldn't have cared less at the time.

The only reliable detail we have about Brent's adolescence comes from David Browne, who reported that Brent's 70s girlfriend (John Batdorf's sister-in-law) said that teenage Brent felt isolated from his family, living on a houseboat on the San Joaquin River Delta while his sisters and parents lived in the main house. For that geography to work, the Mydland compound would have had to be somewhere around present-day Oakley (we will leave aside the synergy of two consecutive Dead keyboard players living on houseboats).

For Brent to have gone to Liberty Union, he would have had to be nearer to it than Antioch High School. Today, Antioch (pop. 111,000) and Brentwood (pop. 64,700), just East of it, are bedroom communities for families who work in Walnut Creek, Oakland or San Francisco. Antioch has a BART station, and Brentwood may have light rail to the Antioch BART soon. But when Brent was there, it wasn't like that at all.

Antioch is one of the oldest towns in California, founded in 1849. It was primarily a boat landing for grain shipped in from the Delta and out to San Francisco Bay. The land that Brentwood was built on was acquired in 1837 from the original Mexican land grant. Brentwood was a rural agricultural area, but it had a post office in 1878, although the town only incorporated in 1948 (the name came from the original landowner's home town in County Essex). Old as they were, Brentwood and Antioch were tiny in Brent Mydland's day. In 1970, when Brent would have been a junior at Liberty Union, the town of Brentwood only had a population of 2,649, and Antioch (25 miles West, nearer Concord), only had 28,600. Since then, the population has exploded by nearly 600%.

But back in the day, Brent probably went to school with farm kids from the surrounding area. An unsourced Wikipedia entry says that Brent played trumpet in the marching band, but was kicked out for having long hair. It's likely true [update: confirmed]. Brentwood wasn't Berkeley in1970, even if it was just an hour away. Who were Brent's friends? What were the names of his bands? Did he sing with them, or just play keyboards? And when did he get a Hammond organ? Now sure, his father was (or had been) a minister, so maybe there was a church connection, but that's interesting too--did Brent play organ in his father's church? No one seems to have found out, or even asked the questions.

Correspondent Eric sends a photo from the 1968 Liberty Union HS Yearbook, with freshman Brent Mydland (circled) and his trumpet

All we really know is
  • Brent graduated from Liberty Union High School in 1971
  • Rick Carlos played in bands with him in those days
We don't even know if Rick Carlos went to Brentwood. But, in the end, it didn't matter. Brent was a talented, quiet guy in a farming community. He was a million miles from the music explosion in the Bay Area 60s, even if he was just an hour from Berkeley. But a bass player in some now-forgotten band remembered when other guys asked for a good organ player. Not once, but twice Brent got the call, first from Rick Carlos for Batdorf & Rodney in late 1974, and then again from John Mauceri for the Bob Weir Band in late 1977. Brent ended up in the Grateful Dead from 1979 to 1990, and he's easily the most famous person who ever went to Liberty Union.

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 [1971] 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

After The Bob Weir Band
Per John Mauceri, Brent Mydland made something like $1000 a week on the road with the Bob Weir Band. For Brent, in 1978, that was probably the life he always dreamed of. Making actual money playing good rock and roll for a living, with a girlfriend back home in Thousand Oaks. Who could wish for anything more? Indeed--be careful what you wish for.

In August of 1978, Brent and his girlfriend were invited to Jerry Garcia's birthday party, in the house he shared in Hepburn Heights (San Rafael) that he shared with Rock and Niki Scully. Later, Garcia heard Brent play live, in the Pacific Northwest, and raised the possiblity of Brent replacing both Keith and Donna Godchaux. Weir in turn mentioned it to Brent, and (per David Browne) Brent and his girlfriend were invited backstage for the Closing of Winterland New Year's Eve show. Contemplate that for a moment. If you see backstage footage from the video of a guy who looks like Brent--well, it's Brent.

Keith and Donna Godchaux left the Grateful Dead around March 1, 1979, and Brent began rehearsing with the Dead later in that month. Brent's live debut with the band was April 22, 1979, at Spartan Stadium in San Jose. Brent held down the keyboard chair for the Grateful Dead until his untimely passing on July 26, 1990. I have not counted, but Brent has to have played keyboards at more shows than any other member of the Grateful Dead (Pigpen having mostly been supplanted in 1969). Brent also played for about a year in Bobby And The Midnites, from Fall '80 until late 1981.

Come 1982, Brent was dating Betty Cantor, and she recorded a solo album for him. John Mauceri was called back to play drums. Mauceri asked Brent if he should call Rick Carlos, but Brent rejected the idea, an irony considering how Rick Carlos had given Brent his big breaks. Nonetheless, Brent let Mauceri pick the bass player (Paul Solomon Marshall on bass, and Kevin Russell played guitar). The album is interesting, but has never been released.

In 1985, Brent played a few East Coast dates with a band called Kokomo, including Bill Kreutzmann, ex-Santana bassist David Margen and guitarist Kevin Russell (ex-707, who had played on the solo album project). The next summer, with the Dead off the road due to Garcia's coma, and finances precarious, the band was reconstituted as Go Ahead, adding Alex Ligterwood (ex-Santana) on vocals and Jerry Cortez (ex-Youngbloods) on lead guitar. The 1986 Go Ahead tour was very fondly remembered (check the Comment Thread), and successful enough to have an encore tour the next Summer.

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.

American Capitalism
Being a musician or artist in America in the late 20th century was a hard, hard road. Yes, the potential rewards for a lucky few might be huge, but talent and ambition wasn't enough. So many things had to go right. If you were lucky enough to be a young man in San Francisco in 1965, or have a family connection to the music industry, or were willing to go out and meet every important person you could, maybe you had a fighting chance. While it doesn't diminish any star's talent to have been in the right place at the right time, it's another barrier for everyone else. We all know of musicians, either personally or from their music, who were talented and just never got the break.

Brent Mydland's father was from Norway, and apparently emigrated to Minnesota to study as a minister. Mydland Senior was a chaplain in the US Army when Brent was born in Germany in 1952. The Mydland family ended up in Concord, CA, afterwards, and seems to have stayed around there. Brent's dad, at least, seems to have done well enough to own a house or two. Brent himself, in the immigrant tradition, far surpassed his father. He had a wife and family, and more money than he must have ever expected.

Brent didn't really express his feelings, except through music, so we can't really know what he was thinking. The most appropriate choice seems to be the actual expression of a song not by Robert Hunter, but David Byrne

You may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
You may ask yourself, "Well, how did I get here?"
How indeed. Brent Mydland (October 21, 1952-July 26, 1990), Rest In Power.

Appendix: Notes from Jake Feinberg's Interview with John Mauceri (Nov 25, 2014)
Jake Feinberg interviews rock and jazz musicians from the late 20th century. With no time limit and a wide-open format, his conversations roam far and wide. What follows are my notes from Feinberg's interview with drummer John Mauceri on November 25, 2014.

I took notes for research purposes, so these are paraphrases rather than transcriptions. I also left out parts that didn't focus on areas of importance to me. All of Feinberg's interviews are interesting, and it is well worth subscribing to his site.

John Mauceri Nov 25 2014
Part 1
Come from a showbiz family, mother was a dancer/ice skater, dad was a singer/dj/comedian. She ended up in Vegas. Grew up in LV. Saw a lot of shows backstage in the RatPack era as kids. Stepfather was a classical percussionist. Not really a drummer, but he had drums around the house. Attracted to drums right when the Beatles broke through. Also played the vibraphone, and took lessons for a few years. 

Buddy Rich lived a block away, his daughter was friends with my younger sister. I used to stand outside his wall and listen to him practice. But I didn't care about jazz, I just wanted to rock. This was around 1967, there was no FM radio. 

I was doing after hours clubs in Vegas, and I also did original stuff, and that's where I met Rick Carlos. I was 16, Rick came in with a band called Terracotta. They were all from the East Bay (Contra Costa), and they came to LA with this drummer (David Blanchard). The band were legal adults. They heard about me (through an agent) and he put me with this band. Three guitars and a bassist, a lot of three part harmonies. Good singers, good songwriters. I hooked up with them

We opened for Jethro Tull and Spirit. We moved to LA the day after I graduated from High School. A month later we broke up. I cried. 

Carlos went back to the Bay Area. I went back to Vegas, I was semi-homeless. Reconnected with my biological father. I was in touch with Mark Rodney, whom I knew from Vegas (his dad was Red Rodney). Mark had heard Terracotta. Batdorf and Rodney had done an album with Ahmet Ertegun, and Mark called me, and I called Rick. 

Rick Carlos was an East Bay Funk guy, he liked Tower and Sons of Champlin, I was more into folk rock, Doors and Byrds. 

First tour with Batdorf and Rodney was with Bread, who were the biggest band at the time. Ended up being in a solo band with Jamie Griffin

I got kicked out of Silver. Rick and I were bounced out of Silver. Rick went back to the East Bay. I ended up getting the David Blue gig [note: Mauceri has the timing wrong, David Blue was in 1973]. I think my wife might have known him or something, I don't remember. David Blue was on Asylum, so were B&D. They needed a bass player, so I called Rick. Then they needed a guitar player so they got Don Felder. David and Felder were doing duo gigs opening for Crosby and Nash. They needed a band, so they got Rick and me. 

We did a tour with Deep Purple. That was our one tour [note: forgot about Poco gig at Winterland]

Went to Jackson Browne in 76, worked with him for a year, and worked with Lindley. Garcia was looking for a drummer, and Lindley recommended me for a gig, and they sent me all the Garcia albums. Then I got a call that they were using someone else (Feinberg: Buzz). But right after that I got a call from Bob Weir, who was needing to put a band together. 

The Bob Weir thing only lasted a few months, but they were huge on the East Coast. Bob was happy, and he talked about wanting to do more. I'd gotten Brent into Bob's band. Rick had gotten Brent into the Batdorf band. 

We did some shows with the Garcia Band, and Bob and Jerry got to hear Brent. 

John Batdorf had split up with Rodney, and he had Hartmann and Goodman and we had Mark, Brent, RIck and me. However, mgmt wanted to replace Rick and me with Tom Leadon (bs) and Harry Stinson (drums). I don't know why.

I saw a [Dead] show in 68 at the Convention Center in Vegas. 

I saw Brent spiraling down and tried to help him, but I wasn't successful. Brent and I did a lot of drinking when we were young. We always drank. In the Bob Weir Band he probably made 1000 a week, I made a little more. When the Dead happened, he became wealthy very fast. I would see shows and visit him, and we would get high and then I would go home.He lost his license, then lost his family, and finally lost his life.

I was friends with Jon McIntire. I used to stay with Brent when I was in the Bay Area. I was out of the picture by then. It was very sad. Jon said "they believe very much in personal responsiblity."

I saw Mahavishnu in the Whisky and Billy Cobham was so intense I had to leave. 

Flying Burrito Brothers: I was still doing drugs, so I don't remember how I got the call. I did some dates in California with them. Sneeky Pete the only original. Skip Battin, John Beland (ex-Dolly Parton) and Gib Gilbeau. Toured Pacific Coast and the West, and did a tour of Italy. [probably late 70s]

Brent called me around '82 to work on his solo album. I'm the drummer probably on all all of it. I asked him if he wanted to use Rick and he said no, but he wanted me to pick someone I had been using. I got this guy Paul Solomon Marshall (sp). We recorded at the GD studio (Club Front). We were flown up from LA. He was dating Betty Cantor. She was a really good engineer. 

Brent was living with his parents. 

Growing up he was into Brian Auger, Tower of Power and some of these progressive rock guys. However, good as he was musically, he was just inept socially. It was like all of his energy went into music. He could play Jimmy Smith stuff like it was nothing. 

I toured with the Dillards, toured with Hoyt Axton for a year. Height of my drinking and drugs, took time off to get sober. 

Brent played on the last Batdorf and Rodney album Life Is You (not credited). There was a single [might be song "Somewhere In The Night," not on Life Is You]

Jon McIntire was Bob Weir's road manager. One time, we played a soundcheck at the beginning of the tour, and our road money was in a briefcase backstage and it got stolen. It was like $15000. McIintire called together both bands, explained that the money was stolen and that he was going to sit in the audience and he wanted it back in two hours. The money was returned. Never found out who did it, but we got the money back.

McIntire moved to LA for a while, tried to make it as an actor. My style is based on four guys, Jim Gordon, Jim Keltner, Russ Kunkel and Hal Blaine.

[can you tell me a Brent story?] We were on the road with Batdor &Rodney when Brent was in the band. We traveled together in a van. Doubled up in rooms. Me, Rick and Brent would share a room. We would flip coins to see who lost and sleep in the rollaway, Brent hated it. One night he had slept in the rollaway twice in a row, Brent and Rick flipped for it. Brent was mad and he went to sleep in the van. When he woke up in the van (Summer) it was 100 plus degrees.

When Brent wanted to express intimate feelings, he put it into a song. You could get along with him, but if you had to wrangle with him, disagree with him, he didn't know how to compromise or give and take. Had a short fuse and got frustrated. I never had long intimate conversations with him like I did with other people. Near the end, when I got sober, I tried to reach out to him, but I couldn't succeed. I could see him any time.

Appendix 2: Brent Mydland Discography
A correspondent snipped out the Brent section from The Compleat Grateful Dead Discography. The Batdorf & Rodney details were not included, because they were not known at the time.

from 'the compleat grateful dead discography':

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 (, 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
in 1990.

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".


  1. Correspondent Eric found a picture in Brent's 1968 (Freshman) yearbook, with Brent in his marching band uniform. I added it to the post.

  2. Brent is pictured with the freshman class in the 67 yearbook, sophomore class in the 68 yearbook which includes the band photo, and with the junior class in 69 yearbook for Liberty Union High. His name is also in the index in back all three of those years.. There is no trace of him in the 1970 yearbook. No photo. No "unpictured" reference in the senior class photos... This keeps me up at night. I did also look at the 1971 yearbook just to see if the math was off but you can't argue with math

  3. Correspondent Ihor was kind of enough to snip out the Brent Mydland discography section from The Compleat Grateful Dead Discography, and I included it in an appendix.

  4. There are a couple magazines with lengthy Brent Mydland interviews: the fall 1987 Golden Road, and the June/August 1985 Relix. Golden Road has a couple pages on his pre-Dead musical career, more than can be quoted in a comment; I haven't seen the Relix issue (which is incomplete online), but I would imagine it has more details as well.
    There's also a briefer Mydland interview in the book One More Saturday Night, with just some short comments on the pre-Dead years, doesn't add much.

    Anyway, re: Brent's missing senior year at Liberty Union High, he actually transferred to a different high school in Concord for his senior year, so didn't actually graduate from Liberty High. Lots more details in the Golden Road.

    1. LIA, thanks for this! I tracked down the Golden Road interview, and excerpted the important parts. It appears that the interview is also the primary source for the WIkipedia entry.

      Brent interview is here:

  5. It is never good to speak ill of the dead and I won't. I will say it was hard for me to enjoy this man's contribution to the band, I felt that his internal demons colored his production in a way that made me personally uncomfortable.

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  7. Brent also played some gigs with Kingfish with Bill K. They played the Lone Star Cafe in NY and Brent was falsely advertised for a Capital Theater Passaic show the next night. I also say the Kreutzman/Margen band at the Lone Star and Alex Ligertwood was with them. This was between 1985 and 1987. I never saw Kokomo.

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  10. Keith was the best keyboardist by far .

  11. I believe I once read that Jerry made efforts to expand inner-city Oakland Brent's horizons by encouraging to read poetry and things of that nature. Brent was defiant in his disinterest, essentially saying "I am the poetry!" This tit for tat led to an almost tug of war energy on stage, which is one of the reasons why a portion of the audience perceived Brent as the leading catalyst for magic during that time. No?

  12. Well, Brent was not from inner-city Oakland, he was from farther east, Concord. Jerry did say that Brent lacked the kind of intellectual and cultural resources that many of the other guys had. The rest doesn't really line up with my sense of things, but that's all good.