Thursday, September 24, 2020

The Grateful Dead At The Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA 1967-68 (Vintage LA)

The color poster for the first Pinnacle concerts at the Shrine Exposition Hall, on November 10-11, 1967. Buffalo Springfield, the Grateful Dead and Blue Cheer played both nights.

The Shrine Exposition Hall: The Grateful Dead in Los Angeles 1967-68
The rise of the Grateful Dead is a tale of two cities. The first is San Francisco, where the Dead rose to underground infamy, and the second is New York, where the Dead became economically viable. Dead fans in Manhattan and Brooklyn made playing the city perenially profitable for the band, and that was the platform for expanding their audience to New Jersey, Philadelphia, Long Island, Boston and the rest of the East Coast.

Los Angeles is America's other great entertainment capital, however, and the Dead had an opposite experience when they played Los Angeles. Sure, they sold a few concert tickets, but so did every other band, ever. On the whole, Los Angeles was pretty indifferent to the Grateful Dead in the 60s, and so the story of the Dead in LA is never even addressed.

Los Angeles, more than any other American city, traffics in the glorification of its own history, particularly when it comes to entertainment. LA always celebrates old theaters or nightclubs from brighter days, so often historical sites are better known now than they were back in the day. Looking at the best retro-LA sites, like VintageLA, is like reading about American popular culture history from the inside, and 60s rock history has its place in that world. VintageLA, for example--which I can't recommend enough--has features on the Aquarius Theater and The Whisky-A-Go-Go. Yet it has nothing about the Shrine Exposition Hall, which tried to be the Fillmore scene for Los Angeles. The Grateful Dead were essential to the rock history of the Shrine, as they were for many 60s rock venues, yet the tale of the Dead at the Shrine Expo Hall remains obscured. This post will illuminate the essential role of the Shrine, and the Dead's part in that, and point to why both the Shrine Expo and the Grateful Dead never lived up to Los Angeles expectations (see here for a broader, less Dead-centric rock history of the Shrine Exposition Hall in the late 60s).



The Shrine Auditorium and Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, at 665 West Jefferson Street

The Grateful Dead in Los Angeles, 1966-67
The music industry played a huge role in Los Angeles, since so many record companies were based there. However, live performances by rock bands in the mid-60s were focused more on "personal appearances," to keep bands' names and faces in front of current and prospective fans, rather than aimed at persuading listeners to buy records based on the music heard at the show. There were a lot of nightclubs for teenagers, and shows at high schools, that featured brief sets on minimal sound systems. There was a substantial nightclub industry, too, but that was oriented towards selling drinks. Danceable music, like at the Whisky-A-Go-Go, was designed to get patrons hot and sweaty so that they would purchase plenty of liquor to cool themselves down.

None of the existing performance models had any room for the early Grateful Dead. They were a dance band, of sorts, but their audience didn't drink, and in any case was mostly too young. Playing short sets missed the point of the Grateful Dead, and without a good (for the time) sound system, their music didn't make much sense, either. In any case, the long-haired Dead were scary barbarians back in the day, and not necessarily welcomed with open arms at a High School. What the Dead needed were underground gigs, but there weren't initially many of those in an industry town like LA.

When the Grateful Dead made their first assault on Los Angeles, in February of 1966, they attempted to create their own underground scene. The buzz of the Acid Tests had worked its magic in San Francisco, and Bill Graham and Chet Helms had teamed up at the Fillmore to start presenting similar events weekly. This formula failed in Los Angeles, however. The Dead had found some friends and put on some Acid Tests and "regular" shows in February and March 1966. The events, while fun, were thinly attended and made no money. The Dead's trip to LA had been intended to make the band more successful. It failed. Like many out-of-towners before them, the Dead returned home to where they were popular, and re-invested themselves in their previous incarnation. They would not return until the next year, when the band had been signed by an LA record company.

January 20, 1967 Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, Santa Monica, CA Timothy Leary/Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead were booked by Warner Brothers Records to record their debut album the week of January 30. 10 days earlier, the band had a relatively high profile Friday night show appearing with LSD promoter Timothy Leary. The Dead (and certainly not Owsley) weren't that sympathetic to Leary, but they were linked in the public mind. Santa Monica, while not technically LA, was right next to it and was generally seen by everyone as part of Greater Los Angeles, so this show would have counted as a return to the city. The show was well-attended, Leary gave a speech, and the Dead played a set. A good time generally seems to have been had, and the band got paid and got some attention. Warner Brothers can not have been sorry that their underground band was doing something "hip" like this.

There is a plausible rumor that the Dead played a show at the Aragon Ballroom in Venice Beach on Sunday night, January 22 (later The Cheetah, see April 30 below). That is someone else's research, however, so I won't elaborate. The only point to make here is that if they did indeed play it--and they might have--it remains awfully obscure, so it may not have done too much to increase underground buzz.

A poster for the first shows at the Kaleidoscope (1228 Vine St), which were blocked by an injunction. The shows may have moved to the Ambassador Hotel in LA for the weekend of April 14-15, 1967
April 14-15, 17, 1967 The Banana Grove (Embassy Ballroom), Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles, CA: Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead/Canned Heat
After the Grateful Dead's first album was released on Warner Brothers in March, 1967, the Dead made some effort to "make it" in Los Angeles. Their first booking was at a nascent underground venue called The Kaleidoscope. The obscure venue is known today mainly for its unique, round posters (well, and my detailed history, too).

The Kaleidoscope was a venture by Canned Heat's managers (Skip Taylor and John Hartmann) to open a Fillmore-style venue in Los Angeles. For 1967, this was quite an inspired booking. Jefferson Airplane had just released Surrealistic Pillow and "Somebody To Love" was climbing the charts, while the Grateful Dead were underground legends who had just released their first album. Canned Heat were unknown to all but a few Los Angeles club goers, but they were an excellent live band. Taylor and Hartmann continued to work on the Kaleidoscope concept, eventually taking over the Earl Carroll Theater at 6230 Sunset (I have written about that venue at length, and VintageLA has the history of the theater itself).

This original weekend was supposed to be at a building on 1228 Vine Street (at La Mirada near Fountain), but a last second injunction stopped the event. For the weekend, the show was moved to the Embassy Ballroom in the Ambassador Hotel, at 3400 Wilshire, which also housed the legendary Coconut Grove Ballroom (I am planning to write about the weekend at the Ambassador in some detail). The ballroom was nicknamed "The Banana Grove" for the weekend.  All three bands played Friday and Saturday, but the Monday night event (April 17) appears to have been a sort of LA event for the release of the first Dead album, Taylor and Hartmann at least briefly considered keeping the Kaleidoscope at the Ambassador, but that's not what happened.

April 30, 1967 The Cheetah, Venice, CA: Grateful Dead/Yellow Balloon/New Generation (early and late shows)
With no real underground venue in Los Angeles like the Kaleidoscope, the Dead took conventional rock bookings instead. The Cheetah was at 1 Navy Pier on Venice Beach, right next to Santa Monica. It too was part of Greater Los Angeles, and not a suburb. However, the Cheetah was mostly a teen club at the time. Teenagers would come to meet people, dance, and return to the suburbs. A 45-minute set from the strange looking San Francisco band with no hit single, nor potential hit single, wasn't going to win over the type of kids who were going to the Cheetah at the time.

June 16, 1967 The Hullabaloo, Los Angeles, CA: Grateful Dead/Yellow Payges/The Power (early and late shows)
The Friday night before their appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival, the Dead were booked at the Hullabaloo. The Hullabaloo was promoted by a popular Los Angeles top 40 dj (Dave Hull), and was designed as another teen hotspot. It had a rotating stage, so as one band played, the next band set up. It was LA, and all, and sometimes good bands played the Hullabaloo, but that wasn't why people went. Once again, the sort of stylish teen scene represented by the Hullabaloo was the complete opposite of anything that made the Grateful Dead tick.

In a September '67 interview, Frank Kofsky asked Garcia if he had played in LA.
GARCIA: Yeah, but we've never *really* played LA. We've played in the Cheetah down there.
KOFSKY: Yeah, which is a drag.
GARCIA: We played at all the shit places. And we can never get it on because it always brought us down so much. I mean, the people and promoters down there are all horrible, graspy... The whole LA snap, the whole hype, you know: bread, dollars and cents, and that's it. We've never gotten it on in LA. We've played there but we've never *done* it. 
Kofsky mentions the upcoming 9/15 Hollywood Bowl show & Garcia says, "We want to do that just for the flash of playing in the Hollywood Bowl...[but] nothing's gonna happen."


September 15, 1967 Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, CA: Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead [Big Brother canceled] Bill Graham Presents The San Francisco Scene
September 16, 1967 Elysian Park, Los Angeles, CA: Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead (free concert)
The Hollywood Bowl, at 2301 North Highland Avenue, is one of Los Angeles' most famous performing venues. The amphitheater is carved into the hillside, and a distinctive bandshell covers the stage. Hollywood Bowl is owned by Los Angeles County (the town of Hollywood was merged into LA in the 1930s), and even in a town of fabled entertainment venues, Hollywood Bowl stands out. Capacity is around 17,000, so events at Hollywood Bowl are major indeed.

In the Fall of 1967, since San Francisco was the hottest city in the rock business, Bill Graham took to booking Fillmore bands elsewhere. Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and The Holding Company and the Dead had very few albums, and almost no hits, but they were legendarily infamous even by this early date. So you might expect that the confluence of them in an outdoor Hollywood venue would make for a major 1967 event. But it didn't. No one seems to recall the show. The only fact I know for sure is that Big Brother canceled and did not play. I have seen a picture of Bob Weir on the empty stage, so I know the Dead made it to the venue.

A useful source explains the shortcomings of the Hollywood Bowl as a rock venue, though not specifically for the Dead. Jimmi Seiter, the road manager for The Byrds, discussed the Bowl in Volume 3 of his voluminous memoirs (The Byrds My Way). Sieter explains why there weren't very many good rock concerts at Hollywood Bowl:
The union in those days hat the long haired hippies so of course the Byrds were put into that category...Another bad thing about the Bowl was that there was a very strict curfew since there were many homes that were affected by the sound of the shows so they had a strict 10:30pm curfew and if there was a problem they would turn off the power to the stage. This made for some very short performances when a band would play too long, but this was one of the drawbacks to a show at the Bowl.
So it's no surprise Big Brother dropped out, as there probably wasn't even time for three sets, and if the Dead and the Airplane couldn't play loud, what was the point? So it's no surprise that we have no fond psychedelic eyewitness reports from Hollywood Bowl.

The next day, the Dead and the Airplane played a free concert in nearby Elysian Park. I gather this was fairly well attended, though not a huge event. In many cities, however, any free concert by the Grateful Dead was the first time a major rock band (with a record) had ever played for free, and was also a local hippie clarion call. Ever-hip Los Angeles was different. The Human Be-In set off a wave of similar events around the country, and Los Angeles had had it's first "Love-In" at Griffith Park in March of 1967. So there had already been a fair number of free rock concerts in LA before the Dead and the Airplane played Elysian Park. So the Dead didn't make a big splash with what in most towns would be the stuff of legends.


The April 7, 1967 LA Times advertised a week-long Sport Cycle (bicycle) show at the Shrine Expo Hall

Meanwhile, Back At The Shrine
The Shrine Auditorium and Exposition Hall was built in 1925 by the Al Malikah Temple of the Masonic Order.  The building is in a Spanish Colonial Style with a Moorish flair.  The main entrance to the Auditorium was at 665 West Jefferson Street.  The stage is huge (186 by 72 feet) and it is a popular home for the Academy Awards.  The Auditorium has 6,489 seats on three levels.  The Exposition Hall, part of the same complex but around the corner at 700 West 32nd (at Figueroa) is a 56,000 square foot open area that was (and is) used for trade shows and conventions as well as rock concerts.  The Expo Hall had a capacity of about 5,000. In the late 1960s, most rock concert listings that say “Shrine” are typically at the Exposition Hall rather than the Auditorium. From the 1970s onward, however, almost all rock concerts listed as "The Shrine" were at the Auditorium (including the Dead's return in the latter 70s).

FREAK OUT Hot Spots! Insert to the first Mothers of Invention album, with a map of underground sites in 1966 Los Angeles (Freak Out album released June 1966)
August 13, 1966 Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA:  Mothers of Invention/others
Los Angeles is an Entertainment industry town, and proud of it. Thus any cultural progression--new contrarian, regressive, progressive, even revolutionary--gets assimilated into modern entertainment. Any performer who can be accused of "selling out" is also buying in, because it's the nature of the beast. In the Summer of '66, with the Vietnam War expanding, the Watts Riots still haunting the city and hair getting longer everywhere, Los Angeles had an underground rock scene, just like the Fillmore and Avalon. We like to think of Frank Zappa as an iconcoclast, or should I say, Frank wanted us to think that, but the very first Mothers Of Invention album included a map to LA's nascent 1966 underground.

One of the founding events of the Los Angeles underground was a show at the Shrine Exposition Hall on August 13, 1966, featuring the Mothers of Invention and several other (then unknown) acts. Just like the Family Dog events in San Francisco, Southern California "Freaks" suddenly realized there were a lot more people like them than they realized. The Shrine was apparently simply rented, probably because it was centrally located and available.


September 17, 1966 Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA: Mothers of Invention/Little Gary Ferguson/Factory/Count 5/West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band
October 15, 1966 Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA: Little Gary Ferguson/Davie Allan & The Arrows/Kenny Dino/The Mugwumps/Dolores Johnson/The Way Out/The Fabs/Vito “Freak-In” Presented By Pat Morgan


In September and October there were sequels at The Shrine Expo Hall. The Mothers headlined in September, with some other undergroundish bands, and there was a light show as well. The October event didn't advertise the Mothers, and there were none after that. I have no idea what happened at the third one--was it a financial debacle, or did the cops hassle everyone? In any case, there were no more Freak Outs, but the Shrine Expo Hall had been proven as a possible venue for Fillmore style "Dance Concerts."

December 18, 1966  Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA: Big Brother and The Holding Company/Quicksilver  Messenger Service/Loving Impulse
(possibly canceled)
Big Brother and Quicksilver booked a show at Shrine Expo Hall, and a poster circulates. I'm not convinced the concert actually took place. The importance of the poster, however, is it means that word had gotten around that the Shrine Expo Hall might make a Southern California Fillmore stand in.

An alternate poster for the Dead's November 10-11 '67 debut at Shrine Expo

November 10-11, 1967 Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA: Buffalo Springfield/Grateful Dead/Blue Cheer Pinnacle Concerts Presents
By the fall of 1967, almost every psychedelic rock band had played Los Angeles, at a wide variety of venues, but there was no venue that played the role of the Fillmore. At the Fillmore, the mere fact of playing there meant you were a hip band, and fans came just to see what was hip. All over the West Coast, there were comparable places--the Crystal Ballroom in Portland, Eagles Auditorium in Seattle and The Retinal Circus in Vancouver, for example--but none in Southern California. The Kaleidoscope had been conceived to fill the void, but the City Council (and perhaps the cops) had throttled it pre-birth. There may have been a few hip little nightclubs, like the Magic Mushroom, but no venue where the rising underground bands played on a regular basis.

To tell this story properly, I should tell the entire story of the Shrine Exposition Hall as a Southern California Fillmore. That story is too long to tell here, even for me, so I will limit the narrative to the general outlines of concert promotion at the Shrine Expo Hall, and the critical role played by the Grateful Dead as part of the story.

The first regular promoter of rock shows at the Shrine was Pinnacle Dance Concerts, the partnership of Sepp Donahower, Marc Chase and John Van Hamersveld. Supposedly some of the money was supplied by the heir to a cereal fortune, but that may be apocryphal. Pinnacle promoted concerts at the Shrine, both the Expo Hall and the Auditorium, on many weekends between November 1967 and August 1968. As far as I know, during the week the Shrine presented the usual run of corporate or civic events, but I don't know that for certain.

Van Hamersveld was a poster artist, at the time most famous for the promotional poster for the legendary surf film Endless Summer. By 1967, he was the the head of design for Capitol Records. Over the course of his career, Van Hamersheld did the covers for over 300 albums. Among his many, many classic album covers were the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour, the Rolling Stones' Exile On Main Street and the Grateful Dead's Skeletons From The Closet. Van Hamesveld did the posters for Pinnacle Productions, and many of the posters were so good that we remain familiar with them today.

After Pinnacle's debut with Buffalo Springfield and The Dead, they put on a series of shows at Shrine Exposition Hall. Pinnacle only used the Shrine on weekends, and not even all of them, and the Exposition Hall seems to have had the usual trade events and the like throughout the whole period. There weren't as many rock concerts at the Shrine as at the Fillmore, but Van Hammersveld's posters are fairly recognizable today. Pinnacle must have made at least some money, since they kept putting on shows.

When I started researching the rock history of the Shrine Exposition Hall, I was very surprised to find that there was no accessible on-line list of the Pinnacle rock shows. As a result--and being me--I made my own list, and posted it elsewhere (I will add, as a Grateful Dead footnote, that the band did not play the Shrine on December 13, 1967, nor did anyone else--it was a Wednesday, so they didn't debut "Dark Star" there).

March 9, 1968 Melodyland Theater, Anaheim, CA: Jefferson Airplane and Friends (early and late show)
By early 1968, Jefferson Airplane were selling a lot of records, and they were genuine rock stars. Los Angeles, however, was still about "entertainment." The Airplane played a weekend, with two shows each night, at the Melodyland Theater, just across the road from Disneyland. On Saturday night, the Grateful Dead were billed as "Friends," for whatever reason. It seems both bands played two short sets twice a night. The Airplane had Grace Slick, a genuine star, but the Dead were never going to win over a crowd in that kind of format.

May 17, 1968 Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA: Grateful Dead/Steve Miller Band/Taj Mahal
May 18, 1968 Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA: Grateful Dead/Steve Miller Band/Taj Mahal/
[with Jefferson Airplane as unbilled guests] Pinnacle Presents
By May of '68, Pinnacle had put on a steady run of hip shows at the Shrine Expo Hall. For the weekend of May 18-19, the Grateful Dead returned, along with another rising San Francisco group, the Steve Miller Band. The Miller Band had just released their debut album on Capitol, the great Children Of The Future. Taj Mahal was a well-known local act, whose debut album had just been (or was about to be) released on Columbia. 

In line with being cool, the Airplane "showed up" at the Grateful Dead concert on Saturday night. This was probably announced on FM radio. Pinnacle would not have had the Airplane drop in if ticket sales had been more robust. It's worth noting that the Dead, Airplane and Steve Miller were all playing the Northern California Folk-Rock Festival in Santa Clara this weekend. The Dead would have played the Shrine on Friday night, flown up to San Jose, played the Fairgrounds on Saturday afternoon, and then returned to the Shrine for the Saturday night show.

llumaniti Alert: in an interview, poster artist and Pinnacle partner John Van Hammerseld, interviewed in Paul Grushkin's Art Of Rock book (p.255), says that George Lucas was part of the light show crew at some point in 67-68. So for those of you who feel that there was a secret connection between the Grateful Dead and Star Wars...

July 11, 1968 Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA: Grateful Dead/Blue Cheer
The Grateful Dead returned in 1968 to headline a rare Thursday show at Shrine Expo Hall. It's hare to read the poster, but I'm not sure if it was a Pinnacle show. Certainly Pinnacle produced the weekend show, with a triple bill of Butterfield Blues Band, Sly and The Family Stone and the Velvet Underground. Presumably, the fact the Dead could play on a Thursday suggested they had an audience, but they weren't a big enough draw for a weekend show. The Dead's weekend booking was at a tiny place on Lake Tahoe's North Shore, so it wasn't like Shrine promoters were being outbid by a high-powered gunslinger from another city.

There is one interesting detail about the July Shrine Expo show: future Jerry Garcia Band drummer David Kemper, then a teenage high school graduate, had just moved to Los Angeles. In a great Jake Feinberg interview, Kemper described seeing the Dead at the Shrine, but not remembering much, "thanks to Mr. Owsley." The timeline strongly suggests that it was this show.

[update: Commenter Brad makes a good case for July 11 as a spurious date. The poster was apparently completed in 1972, and Brad and LIA report that there is no supporting publicity. So we still don't know which show Kemper saw...maybe in May?]
 

Headliners for the Newport Pop Festival in Orange County were Tiny Tim (Sat Aug 3) and Jefferson Airplane (Sun Aug 4). The Dead played Sunday.
August 4, 1968 Orange County Fairgrounds, Costa Mesa, CA: Newport Pop Festival, with Jefferson Airplane/Eric Burdon and The Animals/The Byrds/Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service/Iron Butterfly/Things To Come/Illinois Speed Press/Blue Cheer
The Newport Pop Festival, a two-day outdoor event at the Orange County Fairgrounds, was just one of many events trying to capitalize on the Monterey Pop vibe. When these kinds of concerts were a success, they generally overwhelmed the venue or the community, but if they weren't as crowded, they lost money. Still, the Newport Pop Festival is somewhat fondly remembered. The Dead played with their San Francisco friends, and got to check in with some other pals. Garcia's old bluegrass compadre Clarence White was playing one of his first shows as the lead guitarist for the Byrds, and the Dead went back a ways with Eric Burdon and The Animals as well.

Still, putting on a good show at a big outdoor event probably didn't do that much for the band. There were a lot of groups, and the Dead probably played about an hour, like everyone else. Some fans probaly liked them, but I doubt that all the high school and college students were still raving about them when school started the next month.

August 23-24, 1968 Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA: Grateful Dea/Taj Mahal/others Pinnacle Dance
Everyone seems to have had fond memories of psychedelic rock concerts at Shrine Expo in 1967 and '68, but they don't seem to have been that profitable. Pinnacle's next-to-last stand was on the weekend of August 23-24, with a weekend of concerts by the Grateful Dead. There was one more weekend of Pinnacle concerts, two weeks later (Sep 6-7, with John Mayall/Junior Wells/Taj Mahal), and Pinnacle stood down.

The Shrine concerts were recorded by the Dead, and released by the band on the 1992 album Two From The Vault. The release, although brilliantly restored, has some very misleading liner notes. All of the pictures on the archival cd are from the Auditorium rather than the Exposition Hall. The liner notes, full of details about frequency response, seem oblivious to the fact that there were different venues in the same building.

An ad for a canceled concert at the Shrine Expo Hall on September 27-28, 1968, presented by "Zenith Sunrise," and featuring the Grateful Dead and Buddy Miles Express
September 27-28, 1968 Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA: Grateful Dead/Buddy Miles Express/Black Pearl/Little John Farm  [canceled] Zenith Sunrise presents
The Pinnacle company fell apart after August. An intriguing artifact is this poster for scheduled Grateful Dead concerts at Shrine Expo on the weekend of September 27-28. The poster says the shows will be presented by Zenith Sunrise. The concerts never happened. Presumably, Zenith Sunrise was a reformed version of Pinnacle, but it didn't happen. Much of the Pinnacle team reconvened as Scenic Sounds, and started putting on shows around Southern California. The Dead were very loyal to promoters, so I assume that if they took the September booking, it would have been with the same principals as Pinnacle.

October 18, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: Grateful Dead/Cleveland Wrecking Company
December 13-14, 1968 The Bank, Torrance, CA: Grateful Dead/Magic Sam/Turnquist Remedy

Over in suburban Torrance, what was formerly the Blue Law had been reconfigured as The Bank. A group of hippies, one of whom had inherited some money, put together the Fillmore-like operation. On one hand, Torrance was more or less the suburbs, which was where young rock fans lived. Places like Torrance were also where the local police absolutely, positively did not want some hippie establishment.

The Bank had opened in July. A lot of cool rock bands played there in the Summer and Fall, even more so once the Shrine was no longer booking shows. Pink Floyd and Ten Years After both played there, as did a number of San Francisco bands. The Grateful Dead played The Bank in October, and then again at the very end of the line, in December. By the end of '68, so many people were getting busted at The Bank that crowds had dramatically thinned out. This was exactly what the cops wanted, and spelled the end of the venue. The window for a Fillmore-style ballroom in Southern California was closing.

Scenic Sounds presented Country Joe and The Fish and the Grateful Dead at the Shrine Exposition Hall on December 20-21, 1968. The Dead never played Shrine Expo Hall again.
December 20-21, 1968 Shrine Exposition Hall, Los Angeles, CA:  Grateful Dead/Country Joe and The Fish/Spirit/Pulse/Sir Douglas Quintet/Mint Tattoo Scenic Sounds Presents
The Pinnacle group reconstituted itself as Scenic Sounds. I know that John Van Hammersveld was the Art Director for Capitol Records by this time, and the cereal heir was gone (if he was ever really there). Scenic Sounds rented Shrine Expo Hall again for a few more shows in the Fall. Near Christmas, Scenic booked the Dead again, this time with Country Joe and The Fish as headliners. It is largely forgotten that outside of San Francisco, Country Joe and The Fish had a higher profile than the Grateful Dead.

Apparently there were two stages, so there could be more bands. Pulse was.a peculiar act, a conga player with a light show, and the drums apparently triggered the lights. Sir Douglas Quintet and Mint Tattoo were Bay Area bands, so it must have been a long evening. Country Joe and The Fish didn't really have a bass player at this point, so Spirit's Mark Andes filled in for the weekend, according to witnesses.

Yet with that, the Grateful Dead never played the Shrine Exposition Hall again. Pretty much, that was the end of Shrine Expo as a meaningful rock venue. Sure, promoters rented it once in a while, and there were occasional rock shows. In fact, there still are. Not often, but sometimes. The Shrine Exposition Hall is still a going concern, and now and again there is a concert there.

Still, the narrative for the Grateful Dead in the 60s in Los Angeles is the opposite of practically everywhere else. In New York, in Oregon, in the Pacific Northwest, in Miami, in Philadelphia--the Dead rolled into town and stuck a flag in the ground. Buoying every new psychedelic ballroom, playing the first free concert in town, playing longer and louder than anyone else. It was the stuff dreams were made of. Los Angeles isn't like other towns, however, and is proud of it. The Shrine Exposition Hall was just another venue. Sure, there were some great shows, because great bands were on tour, but Shrine Expo didn't have a big impact on Los Angeles culture or music, even though it's bona fides were as great as any other contemporary venue. 

Aftermath: Pacific Presentations
The significant impact of Pinnacle concerts at Shrine Expo was the genesis of subsequent concert promotion companies. The Pinnacle team became Scenic Sounds. In early '69, Scenic Sounds started booking regular concerts on weekends at the Rose Palace in Pasadena. The ever-loyal Grateful Dead played for Scenic twice more at the Rose Palace, on March 21-22, 1969 and then again on May 10.
Scenic Sounds in turn became Pacific Presentations. Pacific put on concerts all over the country, particularly in secondary markets like San Antonio or Rochester, where there weren't major promoters. A band like the Dead was willing to play the hinterlands, but they wanted to work with promoters they already knew, so Pacific Presentations promoted a lot of Dead shows all over the country.

Pacific grew into one of the largest concert companies in the United States, promoting thousands of concerts all over the US and Canada. The company established and popularized venues such as the Hollywood Palladium, and the Santa Barbara County Bowl. Pacific put together California Jam in 1974, which set the record for paid attendance. The company also promoted entire tours of Rod Stewart & The Faces all through the 1970s, helping make the artist one of the biggest attractions in the world. In the late 1970s, Gary Perkins, Brian Murphy, and Bob Bogdanovich split from Pacific and formed Avalon Attractions. Danny Kresky was also with Pacific. After around four years, Danny left to start his own company, DKE in Pittsburgh. Donahower stayed with Pacific and promoted tours with Bob Marley & The Wailers and other attractions. 
 
Sepp Donahower is currently the sole owner of Pacific Presentations. After Perkins left Avalon a few years later, Irving Azoff and Bob Getties bought into Avalon and it was sold to SFX a few years later. SFX was then sold to Clear Channel, and Clear Channel spun off their concert company into Live Nation, which now has merged with Ticketmaster.




Monday, September 7, 2020

January 2-5, 1969 Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Blood Sweat & Tears/Spirit

The Randy Tuten poster for the Bill Graham Presents show at Fillmore West on January 2-3-4, 1969, with the Grateful Dead, Blood, Sweat & Tears and Spirit (a Sunday January 5 show was added)

The Grateful Dead and their fans, in a collective enterprise, have attempted to preserve all the music they ever made. The Dead's archive of live tapes is unprecedented in the 20th century rock industry for its vastness. Dead fans themselves have taped shows, going back to the 60s, with audience tapes often filling in gaps left in the archive of board tapes. Grateful Dead fans have also made an extraordinary effort to determine every show and catalog the setlist for all of them.  For the 2,400 or so live shows by the Grateful Dead, surprisingly little is unknown.

There are gaps, of course, here and there, usually back in the 60s. Inevitably, if the band played an unscheduled show in Ohio or a Wednesday night in Baltimore, it's not totally surprising that we don't have any record. Indeed, the remarkable thing is the number of out-of-the-way 60s shows where we at least have some kind of tape or good eyewitness account, so we at least have a feel for what happened. The near-completeness of the historical record adds to the depth and color of the Grateful Dead's long journey.

On the weekend of January 2-4, 1969, the Grateful Dead were booked to headline the Fillmore West from Thursday to Saturday. Although neither of the Dead's two albums had been successful, really, the Dead were genuine rock stars in San Francisco, and had been since 1966. The Dead had co-headlined an epic party at Fillmore West on New Year's Eve, and they were back for more a few days later. We know the weekend was a success, because Graham appears to have added a Sunday afternoon show. In general, Graham only did this when the rest of the weekend's ticket sales had been robust. So it had to have been a pretty good weekend.

1969. San Francisco. The Fillmore West. Four Grateful Dead shows.
  • I know of no tape of any of the four nights
  • I know of no setlists for any night
  • I don't even know of an eyewitness accounts of any of the shows.

Why? Four nights, likely good crowds, probably eight sets, on their home court, and we know nothing about what the Grateful Dead performed? This isn't Athens, OH or Baltimore, on some weeknight on the road, it's San Francisco, Fillmore West and a weekend. I don't know the reasons--maybe my post will resurrect some long buried sources or memories--but I think I can figure it out.

The Grateful Dead's immortal Live/Dead album was recorded in San Francisco in January, February and March 1969, at the Avalon and Fillmore West

Why No Tapes?

The absence of any Grateful Dead tapes from the January run at Fillmore West is easier to explain, although I can't be definitive. Paradoxically, I think the absence of any tapes has to do directly with attempts to record Live/Dead. As you will recall, the Dead were attempting to record a live album using a brand-new Ampex 16-track tape recorder. Since the Dead were playing New Year's Eve at Fillmore West, Ampex engineer Ron Wickersham helped the band lug the recorder they were using at Pacific Recorders in San Mateo to the Fillmore West in order to record the show.

Apparently the attempt to record the New Year's Eve show was a disaster. One track remains, a messy version of "Midnight Hour." The rest of the tape was recorded over a few weeks later, since 16-track tape was expensive. I do not know what the technical problems might have been on New Year's Eve, nor would I likely understand if they were spelled out. It does appear, however, that Wickersham and the band lugged the Ampex 16-track back to San Mateo, probably mid-day on January 1. A review of the tape showed dismal results, and apparently modifications were in order.

It does make sense, however, to consider that the Dead had set up their sound board and sound system to record on December 31, and returned without their gear on January 2, since Wickersham was resolving the problems. Now, of course, with hindsight, we say "didn't Owsley have his regular deck--what happened?" Honestly, who knows? But it does make a certain sort of sense that the Dead had a certain plan, to record New Year's Eve and the subsequent shows, and it all went South. The Dead did not return to 16-track recording until January 24 at the Avalon, and in between Owsley taped a show the old way (January 17 in Santa Barbara). Still, the band had a plan for Fillmore West, and it went wrong. So the lack of tapes, while still mysterious, is at least somewhat explicable to me.

Why No Reviews?
We think of the Grateful Dead as big rock stars, and that was true in San Francisco in 1969. Nonetheless, the Grateful Dead were also a hometown band who played quite regularly. So while there was plenty of coverage of the Dead in the local newspapers, there were rarely actual reviews of them. A touring band who might show up once a year was worthy of some column inches, but the Dead were a constant, like the cycles of the moon. So they weren't reviewed, not the way that Cream or even The Doors got reviewed.

Also, the regular beat writers for the local papers were a lot less likely to go out and about on the weekend after New Year's Eve. This was just human nature. Chronicle writer Ralph Gleason, as well as Examiner music writer Phil Elwood, often went to Grateful Dead shows, and commented on the goings on. But since neither of them appear to have gone out that weekend, we have no reports. To my knowledge, no other Bay Area paper, nor the Berkeley Barb or any other underground paper commented on these Dead shows, either. So we have no information at all from the press.

A printed ticket for Thursday, January 2, 1969 at Fillmore West. The same run of printed tickets was used for Sunday January 5 (the tickets had a printed reproduction of the poster to prevent counterfeits).
Who Went To The Show?
The weekend of shows was originally announced as Thursday through Saturday, January 2-3-4. From some surviving ticket stubs, it appears that a Sunday night show was added. This was common practice for Bill Graham Presents. It made sense to sell tickets for three shows, and if the demand was there, to add an additional show. This was particularly true for the kind of acts which might cause people to see a show and say, "wow, that was great, I'd love to go again." Of course, the Sunday night scheduling was agreed to in advance by the bands, their agents and managements.

The Grateful Dead had just co-headlined four nights at Fillmore West on November 7-10 with Quicksilver Messenger Service. The Dead and Quicksilver had also hosted New Year's Eve, along with the rising groups Santana and It's A Beautiful Day. Quicksilver's debut album, released in May of 1968, was hugely popular on FM radio. It was also far more accessible than Anthem Of The Sun. So while the Dead were local legends, they were more likely to draw people who had already seen them. The Dead were rock stars, sure, but they couldn't really sell out a weekend at Fillmore West on their own dime.

The two other bands booked with the Dead on this January weekend, as it happened, were perfect examples of bands who were hot. Blood Sweat & Tears and Spirit had both had successful debut albums, and now they were following them up. It appears to have been Blood Sweat & Tears and Spirit who drew the crowds, more than the Dead. Now, to be clear, the Dead were popular, and many of the people drawn to the shows would have looked forward to seeing the Grateful Dead as well. But another reason we know so little about the January shows may be that the Dead were overshadowed by their openers.

I don't mean to suggest that the Dead were "blown off the stage," or anything so dramatic. I just think the what hardcore Deadheads there were in those days were wiped out by New Year's Eve, and other local rock fans were the ones attending on the weekend. Neither Blood, Sweat & Tears nor Spirit have the kinds of fans who document everything they saw 50 years later, which is a shame, because I think that is who were really excited about this show.

Blood, Sweat & Tears debut album Child Is Father To The Man was released by Columbia in April 1968. Al Kooper was the principal writer, arranger and lead singer.

Blood, Sweat & Tears

If we set the Wayback Machine to January 1969, the top group playing this weekend wasn't the Grateful Dead, it was Blood, Sweat & Tears. Blood, Sweat & Tears had been formed by Al Kooper and Steve Katz in Fall, 1967, out of the remains of the Blues Project. Kooper's idea was to have a rock band modeled on the big band sound of Maynard Ferguson. B,S&T's debut album Child Is The Father To The Man, released in April, 1968 was a sophisticated homage to the likes of Ferguson while still retaining a rock beat and a soulful groove. The album sold pretty well, and it got good reviews. B,S&T was an eight-piece band, with the horns actually part of the group, instead of added on later. With players like Randy Brecker (trumpet) and Fred Lipsius (alto sax), the horns were big-band quality too.

Child Is The Father To The Man was a great album, and it still sounds pretty good today. Kooper was the primary songwriter and arranger. Really, the only weakness of the album was Kooper's lead vocals, which were only barely adequate to the power of the arrangements. Steve Katz and other members wanted to add a "real" lead singer. Notwithstanding other disputes in the band, Kooper did not take kindly to the idea of a new lead singer, and he left the group. Thanks to a recommendation from Judy Collins, Blood, Sweat & Tears signed up Canadian singer David Clayton-Thomas. After a few other personnel changes, they had returned to the studio in October 1968. 

Columbia Records was very interested in merging rock bands with horn sections. At the time, Columbia not only had B, S&T, but Chicago Transit Authority and The Flock, who also merged horns with the rhythm section. Columbia assigned producer Jim Guercio, who had been in the Buckinghams, whose hit "Kind Of A Drag" seemed to imply the kind of soul-rock mix that the company was looking for. In late 1968, Guercio was working with both Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago Transit Authority, and those two groups were perhaps the biggest ever sellers on the rock-band-plus-horns model.

Blood, Sweat & Tears self-titled second album, released in December 1968. There were three huge AM hits on the album, and the lp sold over 4 million copies.

"You've Made Me So Very Happy"-Blood, Sweat & Tears
Blood, Sweat & Tears second album, named just Blood, Sweat & Tears, was released in December, 1968. It was huge. Really huge. It sold 4 million copies, a staggering number for the time. There were three gigantic singles that came off the album. If you were sentient in America in 1969, you heard a Blood, Sweat & Tears single from that album all year long. The three big hits were:
  • "You've Made Me So Very Happy" (single released Jan '69, remake of a '67 Brenda Holloway hit)
  • "Spinning Wheel" (single released May '69)
  • "And When I Die" (single released Sept '69)

Blood, Sweat & Tears was so big that they were the second highest paid band at Woodstock (Jimi Hendrix got $20,000, and BS&T got $15K). For various contractual reasons, they were not in the movie, but Blood, Sweat & Tears was one of the break-out bands of 1969. Even before the singles hit, BS&T would have been getting play on KSAN. To 60s hippies, "jazz" was sophisticated music, but parents still didn't like it, so liking jazz or "jazz-rock" meant you were sophisticated. At least initially, BS&T came into 1969 as a cool band. So I think the Fillmore West shows did really well because of Blood, Sweat & Tears, not the Grateful Dead.

Now, to be clear, unlike in later decades, there was no inherent dismissal at the time of the Dead as "an old hippie band"--hippies weren't even old yet. I think the sort of fan who wanted to see B,S&T thought, "oh yeah, the Grateful Dead are supposed to be good, it'll be fun." But I also think that a fan seeing B,S&T would sit through the first Dead set, and the second B,S&T set, but not stick around for Grateful Dead late night. So any killer "Dark Star" at 2am--there had to be at least one, right?--was probably to a pretty thin crowd.

"I've Got A Line On You"-Spirit
Spirit was a band from Los Angeles. Their situation was somewhat of the reverse of Blood, Sweat & Tears. The band had an underground following, and they got airplay on the few FM rock stations that existed. But the band did not sell many records until after they broke up. Today, many Spirit songs are recognizable from television commercials (like "Mr. Skin" and "Nature's Way"), and the group is widely revered by people who own too many records as one of the most original bands in the 1960s. In January, 1969, however, Spirit wasn't very well known. In December '68, the band had just released their second album on Ode Records, The Family That Plays Together.

Still, Spirit only had one kind-of-hit in the 60s, and it was the single "I Got A Line On You." The single was released in October 1968. It was a great song, and ultimately it got as high as #25 nationally. The Family That Plays Together was a great followup to Spirit's 1968 debut album, and it would have gotten some good airplay on KSAN. Now, to be clear, Spirit would have been a cult item, whereas Blood, Sweat & Tears would have been mass-market. But for the kind of hipster who would only go to a show if there was something super-cool to brag about, Spirit would have been it. The Grateful Dead were still reasonably cool, as these things went, but it was Spirit that would have been the draw for the hipoisie. Once again, this kind of fan would have cheerily caught two sets by Spirit, and enjoyed the Dead's first set, but they weren't hanging out for the late night "Dark Star." 

A Call For Archaeologists

  • The Grateful Dead, in their prime, make no tapes of the early January weekend shows at Fillmore West, presumably because of tape equipment issues related to recording what would become Live/Dead
  • Blood, Sweat & Tears has just released one of the biggest albums of the 1960s, and probably helped pack the house.
  • Spirit, not well known but well regarded, seemed to be a band on the rise to stardom, a far more intriguing band to see than the Dead, who had headlined Fillmore West five times in the previous eight weeks

No tapes, no setlists, no reviews, no memories: can someone prove me wrong? Please? Find a review, a lost comment thread on a Blood, Sweat & Tears chat board? January 1969, at home, and we got nothing?

The internet is a remarkable instrument. I'm counting on the audience to find something.

Spirit released their fourth album, Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus in late 1970. The band broke up in January 1971, but the album went on to become a huge hit afterwards.

Aftermath

The Blood, Sweat & Tears album was a monster, 4 million sold and three giant hit singles. The next album, 1970's Blood, Sweat & Tears 3, was also huge. It too had a giant hit single, "Lucretia MacEvil." B,S&T, however, for all their success, was rapidly shoved down the hipness ladder, seen as a bunch of poseurs. By 1970 standards, B,S&T mostly played covers, and the band played charts and didn't improvise. Clayton-Thomas, though an excellent singer, was a trained vocalist, like a Las Vegas singer, rather than gravel-voiced like Rod Stewart. BS&T had to answer the claim that they were "inauthentic," a fatal criticism in those days. Since the band toured on behalf of the US State Department and then appeared regularly in Las Vegas, the group lost all the jazz credibility that had been established with their debut.

By about 1973, although Blood, Sweat & Tears were still very popular, no one was going around bragging about the time they saw them opening for the Dead. BS&T has toured for many decades--they may still--but they don't have the kind of fans who document every show back until the dawn of time. So any memories of the time that the band opened for the Grateful Dead at Fillmore West remain uncaptured. Indeed, some of the SF rock fans who went to check out Blood, Sweat & Tears may have been embarrassed about it after they heard "Spinning Wheel" for the millionth time, so they blocked it out.

Spirit, in contrast, has remained the height of cool since 1968, and deservedly so. Unfortunately, despite the initial success of "I've Got A Line On You," The Family That Plays Together wasn't a big hit. It's followup, 1969's Clear Spirit, another great album, went nowhere. Spirit broke up in early 1971, shortly after their album Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus was released. Twelve Dreams was a huge hit, a staple of FM radio, and much beloved by rock fans everywhere. Various versions of Spirit performed into the 1990s, and there were some spinoffs (like JoJo Gunne), but nothing could recapture the magic of the original band. Spirit's brilliant lead guitarist Randy California drowned in a tragic accident in 1997, and that ended any chance of the heroic recognition they richly deserved.

The Grateful Dead toured continuously until 1995, when lead guitarist Jerry Garcia died. Members of the band have continued to tour and record, and archival releases of the band's material continue to sell in great numbers into the present day.

Appendix: Lineups, January 1969
Blood, Sweat & Tears
David Clayton-Thomas-lead vocals
Steve Katz-guitar, harmonica, vocals
Fred Lipsius-alto sax
Lew Soloff-trumpet
Chuck Winfield-trumpet
Jerry Hyman-trombone
Dick Halligan-organ, piano
Jim Fielder-bass
Bobby Colomby-drums

Spirit
Randy California-lead guitar, vocals
Jay Ferguson-vocals, piano
John Locke-organ, electric piano, piano
Mark Andes-bass, vocals
Ed Cassidy-drums