Friday, November 26, 2021

September 6, 1969 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead (What Do We Know?) [FDGH IV]

This cryptical listing in the underground paper San Francisco Good Times, from Thursday, September 5, 1969, was the only published hint that the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane would play the Family Dog on The Great Highway during the weekend. It was probably announced on FM radio

On Saturday, September 6, 1969 the Family Dog had what must have been its biggest show in its history. We know it was good, too, because we have the tapes. It was very likely packed. The Jefferson Airplane, one of the biggest drawing acts in rock music at the time, played the Great Highway, supported by no less than their old pals the Grateful Dead. Yet there was only the faintest hint of pre-show publicity, and not a word about it afterwards. If the Airplane and the Dead had played an unscheduled show at the Fillmore West, you can bet that Bill Graham would have made sure everyone heard about it, so every rock fan knew that the Fillmore was Where It Was At. The Family Dog let this event slip by without a trace--if Owsley Stanley had not taped both acts, we would never have any idea that the show had even happened.

After a packed opening night with the Jefferson Airplane, back on June 13, the Family Dog had since found itself in difficult financial straits. The venue itself was very appealing. The bands that had played the Family Dog each weekend, by and large, had been really good bands. The groups weren't quite as high profile as the Fillmore West, and Bill Graham always got the first bite of any band on tour. But the quality of music at the Dog was high. The location, far from the center of the city and not near an easy freeway exit, made the venue difficult to find for suburban teens. In the era before MapQuest, simple directions made a big difference. The problem seems to have been that not enough Bay Area rock fans had made it a habit to check out who might be playing at the Family Dog, and consider it as an option. For rock fans, checking to see who was at Fillmore West was automatic, whether or not you ended up going.  But the Family Dog hadn't yet gotten into the minds of Bay Area rock concert fans.

August 1969 had a run of really good bands at the Family Dog, including the Dead on two separate weekends (August 2-3 and 28-30), Country Joe and The Fish (August 8-10), Mike Bloomfield (August 15-16) and a slew of bands on the Wild West "makeup" shows (August 22-24). If there was any time that rock fans were noticing the Dog, it would have been this month. In retrospect, however, we can see August 1969 as a high water mark for the Family Dog. Come September, things would fall apart for the balance of the year. Probably no week in the Family Dog's 14-month history sums up its contrarian history so well as the first week of September. 

Let's review the week of September 1-7, 1969 at the Family Dog on The Great Highway.

The Family Dog on The Great Highway, at 660 Great Highway, ca. 1969

The Family Dog on The Great Highway, 660 Great Highway, San Francisco, CA
The Family Dog was a foundation stone in the rise of San Francisco rock, and it was in operation in various forms from Fall 1965 through the Summer of 1970. For sound historical reasons, most of the focus on the Family Dog has been on the original 4-person collective who organized the first San Francisco Dance Concerts in late 1965, and on their successor Chet Helms. Helms took over the Family Dog in early 1966, and after a brief partnership with Bill Graham at the Fillmore, promoted memorable concerts at the Avalon Ballroom from Spring 1966 through December 1968. The posters, music and foggy memories of the Avalon are what made the Family Dog a legendary 60s rock icon.

In the Summer of 1969, however, with San Francisco as one of the fulcrums of the rock music explosion, Chet Helms opened another venue. The Family Dog on The Great Highway, at 660 Great Highway, on the Western edge of San Francisco, was only open for 14 months and was not a success. Yet numerous interesting bands played there, and remarkable events took place, and they are only documented in a scattered form.

One of the only photos of the interior of the Family Dog on The Great Highway (from a Stephen Gaskin "Monday Night Class" ca. October 1969)

The Family Dog On The Great Highway
The Great Highway was a four-lane road that ran along the Western edge of San Francisco, right next to Ocean Beach. Downtown San Francisco faced the Bay, but beyond Golden Gate Park was the Pacific Ocean. The aptly named Ocean Beach is dramatic and beautiful, but it is mostly windy and foggy. Much of the West Coast of San Francisco is not even a beach, but rocky cliffs. There are no roads in San Francisco West of the Great Highway, so "660 Great Highway" was ample for directions (for reference, it is near the intersection of Balboa Street and 48th Avenue). The tag-line "Edge Of The Western World" was not an exaggeration, at least in American terms.

The Family Dog on The Great Highway was smaller than the Bill Graham's old Fillmore Auditorium. It could hold up to 1500, but the official capacity was probably closer to 1000. Unlike the comparatively centrally located Fillmore West, the FDGH was far from downtown, far from the Peninsula suburbs, and not particularly easy to get to from the freeway. For East Bay or Marin residents, the Great Highway was a formidable trip. The little ballroom was very appealing, but if you didn't live way out in the Avenues, you had to drive. As a result, FDGH didn't get a huge number of casual drop-ins, and that didn't help its fortunes. Most of the locals referred to the venue as "Playland."

The Grateful Dead were one of the few bands to consistently draw an audience to the Great Highway. While the Dead were not yet the irresistible attraction they would become in future decades, they had their own audience. The Dead's Bay Area audience--not yet even called Dead Heads--would make an effort to see them wherever they were. In contrast to most other bands, the more the Dead played the more fans wanted to see them, so there wasn't a concern about oversaturating their market with too many gigs. The distance and difficulty of getting to the Great Highway was not an impossible barrier, and the Dead shows seem to have drawn pretty well.

The Dead had played the weekend of August 2-3, and then returned on the weekend of August 29-30. On Thursday, August 28, the Dead had played an unannounced show that included a jam set with members of the Dead and Howard Wales. We only know of that show because Owsley taped it. Presumably it was mentioned on the radio on the day of the show, but if not for Owsley, the event would have slipped entirely under history's radar. The Dead would return the next weekend, sharing the room with the Jefferson Airplane. Save for Owsley, there seems to be no markers of this event. Rock venues, like all entertainment venues, depend as much on their reputation as a happening place as much as the events themselves. The Family Dog somehow failed to capitalize on their own underground cool.

The August 28 ad for the Family Dog on The Great Highway, promoting the Grateful Dead on the weekend of August 29-30, also included coming attractions for the week

September 1, 1969 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Monday Night class

Like any venue, the Family Dog was willing to rent the hall out during the week when there wasn't a booking. Bill Graham did the same at Fillmore West. Besides clearing a little cash, and providing workdays for a few staff members, these sort of events could remind patrons that the Family Dog was a happening concern, worth checking out. The Family Dog had an additional goal, which was making itself into a community nexus, rather than being exclusively a venue for high-profile rock bands. Yet the Dog was seemingly unable to convert their community efforts into enticing a paying audience on weekends.

Stephen Gaskin was a popular literature instructor at San Francisco State, whose campus was not too far down the road (at 19th Avenue and Holloway). Gaskin spoke about what we would now be called "Human Consciousness" or "Self-Help," but at the time he was called a "Hip Guru." I am no expert in this area, but I will say that Gaskin was neither a con artist nor interested in turning a profit, rare for those sort. His "Monday Night" class had been running since at least July. I don't know whether it was every Monday night or just some, but it was popular (the interior picture of the Dog, just above, is from one of his Monday night events). Admission was free, and Gaskin just lectured, although I think they took donations. 

You would think that Chet Helms would have found a way to entice San Francisco State students that were interested in Self-Actualization on Labor Day Monday to consider checking out rock shows on the weekend. On this weekend, however, the upcoming show was a secret, so the crowd would not have seen a poster at the door encouraging them to check out the weekend rock show. An opportunity lost.

September 2, 1969 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Theatre of The Absurd Costume Ball (Tuesday)
Other than the listing (above) on the Family Dog flyer, I have no idea about this event. It does seem clear that various theater and dance groups took advantage of the Family Dog space for various events, but I don't have any sense that the Dog was able to capitalize on it in any way.

September 3, 1969 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Latin Night (Wednesday)
There had been a substantial Latin Jazz scene in San Francisco in the 1950s and '60s. Indeed, San Mateo's Cal Tjader had been an essential founder in the genre. Once Broadway in North Beach went topless, however, Latin Jazz went into decline in the city. Still, there was an existing scene, probably focused on "older" (although still under 40) fans. I doubt there would have been much synergy between the Latin Jazz crowd and the weekend psychedelic Dog shows, although renting out the venue for a night was still a good thing for the bottom line.

An ad from the Thursday, September 4 SF Examiner promotes the Carnival Ball and coronation of "Playland Girl '69"

September 4, 1969 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Carnival Coronation Ball for Miss Playland 1969 w/Devil's Kitchen/Flying Circus (Thursday)
Playland-At-The-Beach was an amusement park, if an out-of-date one, and the Sunset District in those days was basically a suburb. So it's no surprise to find out that Playland apparently had an annual Beauty Pageant. It had probably run throughout the Summer. It is a telling irony that I am able to discern far more information about a weeknight local Beauty Pageant at Playland than any of the rock concerts by bands who remain popular decades after they were performing.

Devil's Kitchen were a band from Carbondale, IL, that had relocated to the Bay Area and became a sort of "house band" at the Family Dog. Brett Champlin (a distant cousin of Bill) played keyboards and sang, Robbie Stokes played guitar, Bob Laughton was on bass and Steve Sweigart was on drums. They played bluesy rock and roll. According to Brett Champlin, Devil's Kitchen were just another dance band at this show, providing music after the pageant was complete. The Metropolitan Sound Company was a soul band from Oakland, playing original soul music with a Hendrix touch, and the bands probably would have alternated. While the ticket rather enticingly says "Dress Optional," I take that to mean that guests were not obligated to dress formally, rather than at all. 

Based on the Examiner ad (above), it seems that Metropolitan Sound Co was replaced by the Mill Valley band Flying Circus. Flying Circus had existed since 1966, albeit with many personnel changes, and currently featured lead guitarist Bob McFee. He was the brother of Clover lead guitarist John McFee (many years later in the Doobie Brothers and Southern Pacific), and the two bands shared equipment and a rehearsal hall. As far as I can tell, Flying Circus played the kind of funky country rock typical of future Marin County bands. Brett Champlin only vaguely recalled the event, since he still had the complimentary ticket, so it was probably just another night for a working band. 

The SF Chronicle of Friday, September 6, 1969 reported Judith Vacek's election as Miss Playland '69

Given the paucity of information about rock shows at the Family Dog, it's notable that not only was there an ad in the Examiner for the Coronation Ball, we even know who won. The Friday SF Chronicle reported:
Judith Vacek shoots a good game of pool, measures a classic 36-26-36 and is "Playland Girl '69."
The 20-year old Tiburon girl was officially crowned as the Queen Of Playland At The Beach Thursday. The contest was conducted all summer and decided by popular vote of the public.
Miss Vacek, who aspires to be an airline stewardess, received a 1970 Ford Maverick that went along with her new title.

So, Judith Vacek won a Ford Maverick, was a babe, and shot a good game of pool. Wherever she is today, I hope that the Maverick served her well, that she had a nice life, and that she kept her pool game sharp. Yet the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead played the Family Dog over the weekend, and we only know about Judith. 

Let's set our modern hats aside and think about the Miss Playland Coronation Ball from 1969. It was some sort of "election." Apparently the different contestants invited their family and friends to submit votes and then come and cheer and vote for them. Now, let's be real here--what was rock and roll about in 1969 (and probably every other year)? Did all of the Miss Playland contestants get free tickets to the Family Dog? If not, why not? If you were a teenage boy rock and roller in 1969--long haired or not--and knew that beauty pageant contestants might be showing up at the venue on Friday night, wouldn't you be there? More importantly, wouldn't the venue want to shout to the newspapers that all the contestants (and their sisters!) were given free tickets all weekend? Now, maybe they did get free tickets--Judith Vacek could have driven her friends in her new Maverick--but the whole point would have been to publicize it. Yet somehow the Family Dog missed this equation.

September 5, 1969 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Malachi/Rubber Duck (mime) and a jam with members of 3 groups we're not allowed to name
We only have the faintest hint of what might have happened on Friday night. The San Francisco Good Times had a cryptical ad (above). Malachi was a sort of moody guitarist, and Rubber Duck was a mime (Joe McCord) working with a rock band playing improvised music. But that wasn't the appealing part (well, unless you thought Beauty Pageant contestants would be there). The ad said, temptingly, "a jam with members of 3 groups that we're not allowed to name." 

Literally, we know nothing else about Friday night--not even if it happened.

September 6, 1969 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead
We have two great tapes from Saturday, September 6: one by the Jefferson Airplane, and one by the Grateful Dead. Notwithstanding that they were both recorded by Owsley Stanley himself, famous for (among many other things) accurate dating on tape boxes, internal evidence fits as well. At the end of the Grateful Dead tape, Jerry Garcia says "coming up next, Jefferson Airplane." At the end of the Airplane tape, Garcia jams with the Airplane. So it looks pretty definitive: whatever else happened on the weekend, the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane played the Family Dog on the Great Highway on Saturday night.

So why do we know nothing? It's understandable that contracts or other issues may have prevented some advance publicity. In any case, it wouldn't have affected attendance. Jefferson Airplane were one of the most popular live rock bands in the country, much less in San Francisco. Their most recent album, Bless Its Pointed Little Head, recorded at Fillmores East and West, and released in February 1969, had been a huge hit. The Grateful Dead were a popular local band, by any standard. The place was going to be packed. But why didn't Chet Helms make sure the world knew? Bill Graham would have, and that's why the Fillmores are legendary today,--because Bill constantly reminded us. Chet could have done the same, and yet he didn't.

When I speculated about this show many years later, I did get one tantalizing clue from an unknown Commenter:

Yes, I was there that night, working for the light show company that did the show. Both bands were there and traded sets, then both bands took to the stages at either end of the ballroom and jammed together until 2 a.m.

The syntax is a bit confusing here, but the eyewitness suggests the Dead and the Airplane were on separate stages at opposite ends of the venue. Uniquely, the Family Dog had two stages, and they were known to use both to enable quick set changes. It's fascinating to think of the Dead and the Airplane sharing a venue, but on different stages. Yet we only have the barest of clues, memories almost slipped beyond the horizon.

[update 17 Aug 2023] New information has come to light, and the New Riders of The Purple Sage opened the September 6 show. This explains the "3 groups" that can't be named.

Ralph Gleason's column from the August 27, 1969 SF Chronicle

September 7, 1969 Hyde Park, London, England Crosby, Stills and Nash/Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead/Joni Mitchell
As if San Francisco's Wild West Festival fiasco wasn't enough, just a few days later (August 27) Ralph Gleason had announced (above) plans for the Grateful Dead to join Crosby Stills and Nash, The Jefferson Airplane and Joni Mitchell to play a free concert in London for a Granada TV Special. Gleason:

The Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Crosby Stills and Nash (now a Bay Area band: they're moving here) and Joni Mitchell will be presented in a free concert in London's Hyde Park on September 7. 

The groups, with some additions to be announced, will be flying over directly from San Francisco. The show is being put on for filming for a Granada TV program and there's a possibility that there will be other concerts in Europe later.

Of course, none of this happened. Various major bands had played free concerts in Hyde Park during this summer (including Blind Faith and the Rolling Stones), so this idea wasn't as far-fetched as it sounds. Among many other byproducts of this plan, Grateful Dead manager Rock Scully flew to London and made contact with the Rolling Stones, which indirectly lead to the unfortunate Altamont debacle. Scully describes the whole story in his autobiography. Whatever the reality quotient might have been, the unfulfilled plan left the Airplane and the Dead free on this weekend, so they seem to have chosen to play the Family Dog instead. I assume the show was announced on KSAN. Once the word was out, any Airplane show was going to be packed, much less one shared with the Dead.

September 7, 1969 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA:? (Sunday)
Who else performed at the Family Dog this weekend? Honestly, we don't know. Malachi (John Morgan Newbern) a sort of troubadour guitarist, and "Rubber Duck" (Joe McCord), a mime backed by improvising musicians, were listed as performing Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Did they? Who knows? Thanks to Mr Owsley, however, we have yet another intriguing detail. It's worth remembering that Owsley was particularly scrupulous about noting the date correctly on the boxes of his tape reels (earning the undying appreciation of rock prosopographers everywhere). 

There is a 28-minute board tape from the Family Dog, dated September 7, 1969. The performers seem to consist of Jerry Garcia, Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Casady, drummer Joey Covington and another drummer (presumably Hart or Kreutzmann, but we don't know). They perform some rock and roll oldies (see the setlist below), and Joey Covington (future drummer for the Jefferson Airplane) sings a few. A crowd member calls for the old surf tune "Wipeout" and the players respond with the drum solo. A note on the box implies that Jerry Garcia may have joined the two drummers, briefly, on some drums. 

So there appears to have been a jam on Sunday. Probably some band equipment was left there from the night before, on purpose. Did Malachi or Rubber Duck play? Did the Dead/Airplane players do any other music? It seems likely that Jorma, Jack and Joey would have done their full electric thing, as that was what they were doing around the Bay Area. But we don't know. There was some kind of crowd--someone called for "Wipe Out"--but no eyewitnesses have surfaced. Once again, with their most famous performers in residence, the Family Dog made sure that no one found out what happened on Sunday night. For the Family Dog on The Great Highway, it was all a long, slow ride downhill from here.

Owsley apparently did not like the drum mix on Sep 7 79

[update 17 Aug 2023] The Owsley Stanley Foundation figured out that there is an additional reel from September 7. The Grateful Dead played at least one set on September 7 (setlist below), following a set by Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Casady and Joey Covington, with Will Scarlett on harmonica and Jerry Garcia on pedal steel guitar.

Appendix: Setlists

Grateful Dead, September 6, 1969 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA
Good Morning Little Schoolgirl [11:48];[0:13] ;
Doin' That Rag [6:28];[0:09] ;
He Was A Friend Of Mine [12:24];[0:06]%[0:16] ;
Big Boy Pete [3:09] >
Good Lovin' [3:55];[0:53] ;
It's All Over Now [4:04] [Total Time 47:00]

Jefferson Airplane, September 6, 1969 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA

Grace Slick-vocals
Marty Balin-vocals
Jorma Kaukonen-lead guitar, vocals
Paul Kantner-rhythm guitar, vocals
Jack Casady-bass
Spencer Dryden-drums
#plus-Jerry Garcia-guitar, Mickey Hart-drums, {unknown}-congas

[0:10] ; Ballad of You, Me & Pooneil > Starship [15:13] ; [0:20] ;
Good Shepherd [6:30] ; [0:12] ;
We Can Be Together [6:46]
% Somebody To Love [3:55] ; [0:05] ;
The Farm [2:53] ; [0:17] ;
Crown Of Creation [3:05] ; [0:08] ;
Come Back Baby [5:34] ; [0:12] %
Wooden Ships [5:38] > Go Ride The Music [0:35]
% Volunteers [#2:22] >
  Drums [1:54] >
  #Jam [25:27]  [Total time 1:20:12]

Garcia and Hart participate in the Jam following Volunteers, as well as an unidentified conga player. This Jam passes includes a Darkness Darkness Jam.

Grateful Dead, September 7, 1969 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA

Me & My Uncle
China Cat Sunflower
High Time
Mama Tried
Big Boy Pete
New Orleans
Not Fade Away
Easy Wind
Sitting On Top Of the World


Jam, September 7, 1969 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA

Peggy Sue [3:26] %
That'll Be The Day [3:20] %
Johnny B. Goode [3:44] %
Baby What You Want Me To Do [4:54]%[0:46] ;
Wipe Out Drums [0:16] >
Wipe Out Jam [3:54] >
Big Railroad Blues [1:16] %
Louie Louie [3:02] >
Twist & Shout [1:36] >
Blue Moon [1:29] [Total Time 28:49]

        Jerry Garcia, Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Casady, Joey Covington, {additional drummer}


Friday, October 22, 2021

June 4-7, 1970 Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/New Riders Of The Purple Sage/Southern Comfort (San Francisco Evening)

In this century, fans reflect upon Grateful Dead shows as a function of the surviving recordings. Thinly attended shows in out-of-the-way places have become legendary thanks to an amazing recording, while powerful sold-out live events might have little resonance without a good tape. The Grateful Dead's four-night performance at the Fillmore West on the weekend of June 4-7, 1970 falls somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. There are decent recordings of fairly complete shows, so the performances haven't been forgotten. On the other hand, based on what came before and after, the tapes do not mark themselves as exceptional. As a result, while I'm sure these shows get some listens, no one really thinks about the events themselves. This post will consider what was interesting and important about the Fillmore West June weekend shows at the time.

June 4-7, 1970 Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/New Riders of The Purple Sage/Southern Comfort (Thursday-Sunday)
  • These June shows were the San Francisco introduction to the "Evening Of The Grateful Dead" concept. In May, the Dead had toured the East Coast and provided all the music, with an acoustic Grateful Dead set, then the New Riders of The Purple Sage and then the full electric Grateful Dead. San Francisco had seen bits and pieces of all these ensembles in various places and configurations, but not all in one show.
  • The New Riders of The Purple Sage had not played at a Bill Graham show in San Francisco up until this time, strange as it may seem. This was the Riders first time opening for the Grateful Dead at a BGP concert in the Bay Area.
  • Workingman's Dead had not formally been released, but it was already being played on KSAN. It may have also been available in a few hip record stores. So these shows were the first time that regular concert-goers may have come to the show with the expectation that the Dead were evolving from psychedelic adventurers to cosmic cowboys. 
  • The group Southern Comfort opened the show. Their new album had been co-produced by one John Kahn. Kahn had been jamming with Jerry Garcia, Howard Wales and Bill Vitt on Monday nights over at the Matrix. He had probably jammed with Garcia about six times prior to this weekend. While its reasonable to suspect that Kahn had seen the Grateful Dead before, it's all but certain that this would have been the first time Kahn had seen the Dead since he had started jamming with Garcia. 

An Evening With The Grateful Dead

It is little remarked that in the early years of the Fillmore and Fillmore West, the Grateful Dead followed the performance patterns of every other band at the Fillmore. They played two sets, yes, but so did every other act listed on the poster. More distinctly, bands played in order, so the headliner would do the third and sixth set of the evening. Commercially, this meant that high schoolers and suburbanites could come early and leave early, and still see all three bands. Late arrivers, such as those who might work at a restaurant, could check in by 11:00pm and also see all the bands. So while some patrons stayed through six sets, most fans came, saw all three bands once, and went home, essentially allowing Graham to sell tickets all night.

The most famous Grateful Dead performances at the Fillmore West, possibly the best, and certainly the best-recorded, was four nights from February 27 through March 2, 1969. All eight sets were recorded in 16 tracks, and not only formed the core of Live/Dead, but were all released on the 2005 10 cd Fillmore West 1969: The Complete Recordings box. All eight Dead sets are fantastic, but listening to them in sequence is misleading. Two other bands played sets in between each Dead sets, so the audience experience of a Grateful Dead concert was not at all the immersive experience it would be from the 1970s onwards.

The last time the Grateful Dead played the Fillmore West with a round-robin configuration was June 6-8, 1969, with the Glass Family and Junior Walker and The All-Stars. At some point in the Summer of 1969, the Fillmore West changed its rotation. Opening acts opened, and the headliner came on last, and no one came on after them. When the Grateful Dead had played Winterland with the Jefferson Airplane on the weekend of October 24-26, 1969, while they alternated closing duties, each band only played one set. Opening act the Sons Of Champlin played a set and did not re-appear later, as they would have in previous years. From what I can discern, this pattern was being followed by Graham at other Fillmore West concerts as well. The Dead returned to the Fillmore West in December of 1969 (December 4-7), supported by Humble Pie and The Flock, but due to the Altamont debacle, no one remembers those shows at all.

Prior to the June '70 shows, the Grateful Dead had played two weekend stands that year at Fillmore West. From February 5 through 8, 1970, the Dead had headlined Fillmore West over two Southern California acts, Taj Mahal and Big Foot. Taj Mahal doesn't seem like a major act now, but at the time he seemed to be a rising star. He had released three albums on Columbia, a major label, and he got regular airplay on KSAN. Mahal fronted a killer band, too, with Jesse Ed Davis on lead guitar. So from the point of view of a rock fan in February 1970, Taj Mahal was worthy of attention. The Dead came on after Taj and did their thing until the hall closed each night.

From April 9-12, 1970, the Grateful Dead headlined over Miles Davis and Stone The Crows. Once again, the Dead played one long set after Miles. While Miles Davis was already a legend by 1970, and the Grateful Dead certainly thought of him that way, from a rock concert point of view he didn't sell as many tickets as the headliners. Still, the event was treated as a sort of double bill of equals, even if the Dead were bringing more of the crowd. Throughout late 1969 and first half 1970, the Dead had played numerous other shows around San Francisco and the Bay Area, at various venues for various promoters. At pretty much all of the venues, the band had shared the bill with different acts, and played a single extended set, usually closing out the evening. 

The June Fillmore West shows would turn out to be different in another way, although the fans would not have known that until afterwards. Major Bay Area shows, at Fillmore West and elsewhere, typically had three acts on the bill. The June shows had Southern Comfort and The New Riders billed under the Grateful Dead. While Southern Comfort was a typical opening act--more on them below--after their no-doubt brief set beginning at 8:30 it was all Grateful Dead. There was a New Riders set, an acoustic set and an electric set. Garcia and Hart were part of the New Riders, and Dawson and Nelson periodically joined in for the acoustic set, so from about 9:30 pm onwards, the same 9 musicians were providing the music until about 2:00am. An evening indeed with the Grateful Dead.

Following the June shows, this became the pattern for the Grateful Dead in San Francisco, and ultimately elsewhere. Other than big outdoor shows, benefits or special events, if you went to see the Grateful Dead, the evening's entertainment was provided by the Grateful Dead. Sometimes, particularly in the early 70s, there might be an opening act for some reason, but once the Grateful Dead came on stage, they didn't leave. Initially, the Grateful Dead aura was expanded to include not only the New Riders but James and The Good Brothers or the Rowan Brothers, but those too faded away. The Dead themselves expanded from one electric set to two, or even three, and the need for any additional acts was remaindered. Like most Deadheads, once the Dead came on stage, I didn't want the spell broken by some other band, even if they were a band I liked. The "Evening With The Grateful Dead" concept had been tried in May out on the road, but at home it began in earnest in June 1970 at Fillmore West.

The New Riders Of The Purple Sage

Jerry Garcia, John Dawson and David Nelson had started the New Riders of The Purple Sage in the Summer of 1969. The New Riders had played the few little rock clubs around the Bay Area, and the Dead had experimented with having the Riders as their opening act. Yet for whatever reasons, the New Riders of The Purple Sage did not play a San Francisco Bill Graham show until June 1970. The Dead had gone on the road with the New Riders in May. Mostly they had played colleges. The New Riders of The Purple Sage were listed in a few local newspapers and the like, although no one in New York or Massachusetts would have had any idea who they were.

Yet the New Riders had never played a Bill Graham show in San Francisco. I don't think this represented any complicated conspiracy, rather just a matter of timing. Still, it's an oddity I hadn't considered until now. When the Grateful Dead had played the Fillmore East, however, on Friday, May 15, 1970, Graham listed the bill as "The Grateful Dead featuring the New Riders of The Purple Sage." There were early and late shows at Fillmore East, and the band did their three sets--acoustic, Riders and electric--two times over. It must have been OK with Bill, because he booked that lineup at Fillmore West. The New Riders, even without Garcia, would go on to play for Bill Graham many, many times. But it all started here in June, 1970. 

(Note: Some songs from the June 4 and June 5, 1970 New Riders' performances were released by the Owsley Stanley Foundation on the excellent 5-disc Dawn Of The New Riders of The Purple Sage box set)

Workingman's Dead

We tend to view the arc of the Grateful Dead's music through their live tapes, and that's an appropriate way to evaluate them. Very few Grateful Dead fans back in the 60s, however,  would have been able to have any such perspective. Even those few people in San Francisco lucky enough to have gotten to go to multiple concerts would have had only a few whiffs of how the Grateful Dead were evolving at any given moment. Even that would have depended on which shows they had happened to attend.  

From today's perspective, we know that the Grateful Dead's psychedelic adventuring in late '68 and early '69 was starting to be refined by some jangly country sounds. In late '69, going to a Grateful Dead concert and expecting "The Other One" must have led to some cognitive dissonance when you heard "Dire Wolf" or "Green Green Grass Of Home." The countrified Workingman's Dead material had started to appear in mid-69, and the band recorded the album in February and March 1970. From that point of view, the shift to acoustic or semi-acoustic music, the New Riders and the twanging guitars make a lot of sense. It still would have been a surprise to contemporary listeners. 

The official Warner Brothers release date of Workingman's Dead is generally marked as June 14, 1970. In those days, record release dates were generally more casual. Lots of stores probably already had Workingman's Dead by June 4, and would have been selling them to interested patrons. It's known that the Dead had shared a tape of an early mix of Workingman's with KSAN, so the album had been played on the radio. By June 1, KSAN would have probably had an advance promotional copy anyway. So hip rock fans listening to KSAN, at home or in their car, would have gotten a taste of Workingman's Dead already. Thus, kicking off an acoustic set with "Dire Wolf" or an electric one with "Casey Jones" wouldn't have been quite as unexpected as it might have been, even if the songs themselves weren't that familiar yet.

It is a truism of Grateful Dead culture that the definitive recording of the Summer of 1970 is the Pacifica Radio broadcast from SUNY Binghamton, recorded on May 2, 1970. It was widely bootlegged for decades, and the Grateful Dead portion was released in its entirety on the epic 1997 3-cd set Dick's Picks Vol. 8. It's one of the greatest nights of the Grateful Dead, and well deserving of the reverence in which it's held. In this context, however, it's critical to remember that the May 2 show was not broadcast on Pacifica affiliates--KPFA in Berkeley, WBAI in New York,  and so on--until later in June. As near as I can tell, the broadcast date was June 21, 1970. The important point here is that from June 4-7, even the most devoted of Deadheads would have had no awareness of the band's performance on May 2. Anything they heard in June would not have been compared to Binghamton until later.

Howard Wales and Jerry Garcia preparing for Hooteroll (from the back cover of the 1971 LP)

Southern Comfort and John Kahn
John Kahn was not just Jerry Garcia's bass player from 1970-1995, he was also his partner and musical Straw Boss, putting together bands and keeping them rolling. Garcia made it clear that the Jerry Garcia Band was really the Jerry Garcia and John Kahn Band. Without Kahn, Garcia could not have made the JGB the nearly full-time aggregation that it turned out to be, given Garcia's commitment to the Grateful Dead. Kahn, however, articulate and charming as he was, was rarely interviewed. When he was, it was almost always about his work with Garcia and the Garcia Band. As a result, many topics were never pursued, and are left to speculation.

One question that, to my knowledge, was never asked of Kahn was "when did you first see the Grateful Dead?" Now, Kahn had moved to San Francisco in Fall '66 to attend San Francisco Conservatory. He had known musicians ever since, and had been working professionally since mid-67. Musicians get around, so I figured he had at least seen the Dead somewhere, since they played so much. The really interesting question, also never asked of Kahn, was "after you had started jamming with Jerry Garcia, when did you next see the Grateful Dead?" 

I have looked into the chronology of Kahn's introduction to Garcia, and the best triangulation suggests that they jammed together for the first time at The Matrix on Monday, April 13, 1970. It looks like Kahn, Garcia, organist Howard Wales and drummer Bill Vitt had played the Matrix together six times by June 1, 1970. It's true that the June Fillmore West shows would have been the Dead's first local performances since the jamming had started, and Garcia would surely have invited Kahn. That's not the interesting part, though. 

Opening act Southern Comfort was a San Francisco band, who had just released their debut album on Columbia. The album had been assigned to veteran producer Nick Gravenites, but Gravenites had turned the project over to John Kahn. So for the June Fillmore West shows, not only had Kahn been jamming with Garcia, Kahn was co-producer of the band opening the concert. Although Southern Comfort had been around for a year, they too were debuting at Fillmore West, so you know their co-producer would have been there.

Pictures of Bob Jones, from his time as a guitarist in the We Five, to the 70s as a drummer with Mike Bloomfield, and finally in 2010 in retirement in Hawaii

Bob Jones, John Kahn and Southern Comfort
How Kahn became the producer of Southern Comfort and also Jerry Garcia's bass player are in fact two strands of the same story. I have dealt with both at some length, so I won't repeat every detail (follow the links for true journeys down those rabbit holes), but the June Fillmore West concerts turn out to be a convergence of different threads, so it's worth a brief re-visit.

Bob Jones (1947-2013) had played 12-string guitar and sang harmony vocals in a 60s group called The We Five. They had a huge, worldwide hit in 1965 with Ian and Sylvia Tyson's "You Were On My Mind," which sold millions of copies. Still, the We Five broke up, and Jones formed bands in San Francisco with John Kahn and a few others, first the R&B styled T and A Blues Band in 1967 and then the more bluesy Memory Pain in 1968. In the meantime, Kahn and Jones would go around to local jam sessions. Although Jones was a guitar player, Kahn would always ask him to bring a drum set (they shared a house with drummer John Chambers) and play it. Jones would complain that "he wasn't a drummer," but, as he told interviewer Jake Feinberg in the 21st century, he was "Kahned into drumming." 

At a jam session in Novato around late 1968, famous guitarist Mike Bloomfield stuck his head into the room, and enquired who was drumming and who was singing. When he found out that it was the same guy, Bob Jones had a new job. Jones considered himself a guitarist, but Bloomfield liked his drumming, and wanted to use him as a singer as well. Bloomfield had recently left the high-profile Electric Flag,just as he had left the high-profile Paul Butterfield Blues Band before that. Bloomfield was the first SF rock star to play regularly in smaller nightclubs, a practice later picked up by Jerry Garcia, Jorma and Jack, Van Morrison and others.

Bloomfield wouldn't rehearse. If a club date was booked, singer Nick Gravenites would call up a few players and they would back him up. The "first call" lineup for Mike Bloomfield would generally include Gravenites on vocals and rhythm guitar, Bob Jones on drums and vocals, and Kahn on bass. Sometimes keyboard players (such as organist Ira Kamin or pianist Mark Naftalin) might be included, or a horn player as well. If one of the regulars couldn't make it, a substitute was called in. No one was rehearsing anyway, so subs were no problem. Thus the original connection to Kahn and Bloomfield was through Bob Jones, because he had been "Kahned" into drumming at a jam session.

In 1969, San Francisco was the hottest place in the record industry, and a lot of records were being recorded at studios in town. Gravenites was a key producer, since he was well-known from having been in Electric Flag. Gravenites regularly called on Kahn and Jones, among others, for recordings (which incidentally is how they both ended up on the Brewer And Shipley's hit single "One Toke Over The Line," produced by Gravenites). It is a testament to Bob Jones' musical talent that he took so readily to professional drumming without any real background.

Around May, 1969, Jones and some other local musicians formed a band modeled on Booker T and The MGs. The idea was that they would be a complete studio ensemble, and also record and perform their own music. The name of the band was Southern Comfort. The band members were:

Fred Burton-lead guitar [aka Fred Olson, his given name]
Ron Stallings-tenor sax, vocals
John Wilmeth-trumpet
Steve Funk-keyboards
Art Stavro-bass
Bob Jones-drums, vocals

Ron Stallings had been in the T&A Blues Band with Kahn and Jones. He would turn up later with Kahn in Reconstruction in 1979. Southern Comfort was signed to an advance by Columbia Records, and Gravenites was signed up as the producer. At this period of time, Gravenites was also working with Mike Bloomfield, Brewer And Shipley and later Danny Cox (who shared management with Brewer And Shipley).

The Southern Comfort band members received modest advances (probably in the high 4 figures). Bob Jones told me in a private email that his parents persuaded him not to spend his advance on a car or new gear--typical musician choices--but instead to buy a house. As a result, Jones bought a two-story house in Fairfax. Jones and his family lived upstairs, and he rented out the downstairs flat to another musician. 

Bob Jones' tenant was drummer Bill Vitt, who had recently returned to the Bay Area after time on the road and as a Los Angeles session musician. Good drummers are always in demand, so Vitt was immediately popular. Not only did Vitt get studio calls from Gravenites, when there was a conflict between a local Southern Comfort booking and a Mike Bloomfield gig, Vitt was the "second call" drummer. As Southern Comfort played around more in 1969 and '70, Vitt got more calls for the Bloomfield band. 

In March 1970, when Bill Vitt and organist Howard Wales were running the Monday night jam sessions at the Matrix, Jerry Garcia--who had already jammed with Howard Wales--found he enjoyed dropping in. Vitt had invited a symphonically trained bassist (Richard Favis), but it hadn't worked out. So the next weekend--probably April 13--he invited John Kahn. It worked out. If Jones hadn't been in Southern Comfort, if his parents hadn't persuaded him to buy a house, if he hadn't rented it to Vitt, it's not likely that the Vitt/Kahn connection would have been made. But it was.

According to Jones, Nick Gravenites found himself over-committed in the studio, and turned the production of the Southern Comfort album over to John Kahn. Kahn and Jones were close friends, so this was fine with the band. Gravenites had been using the musically trained Kahn as an arranger and orchestrator anyway, so this was more like a promotion rather than a new assignment. Kahn was listed as co-producer on the Southern Comfort album, and he filled in a few gaps--co-writing songs, helping with arrangements, playing piano--but not playing bass.  Columbia released the Southern Comfort album in mid-1970. Opening for a major band at Fillmore West was exactly how big labels liked to promote their bands. I'm sure Kahn was there, probably multiple nights. It would have been a pretty interesting evening for him, hearing the band he had just produced, and then hearing the band with the guy he was jamming with.

You don't need me to listen to old Grateful Dead tapes. The Dead sets for June 4-7, 1970 are fairly intact, and seem pretty good, though not epic. When you're listening to them, however, imagine Garcia wailing away, and a guy on the side of a stage, with a mustache, nodding his head and looking on, thinking about how he might be able to work together with Garcia, if things played out right.


Thursday, September 23, 2021

August 2-3, 1968, The Hippodrome, San Diego, CA; Grateful Dead (Next Phase)

The Grateful Dead in San Diego
In July of 1968, the Grateful Dead released their second album for Warner Brothers, Anthem Of The Sun. The album was released 13 months after their debut album, which for the era was a long stretch between records. The first album had not had a hit single, either, so the Grateful Dead were mostly an unheard legend outside of the few places where they had performed regularly. If a record company was going to pay attention to a band, it was going to be when there was a new release and something to sell. So even hippie bands tried to organize tours and high-profile gigs around any new album. Yet the Grateful Dead did no such thing.

In July of 1968, the Grateful Dead only played two shows. Both were in North Lake Tahoe, a vacation resort 200 miles from San Francisco. There were a few other posters for events that were spurious or canceled, in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Honolulu, but otherwise the band played no shows. How was there going to be any record sales if the Dead weren't going to even make an effort?

August was a little better. The Grateful Dead were booked at a rock festival in Orange County on Sunday, August 4. So the band decided to break in some new territory, and play a weekend in San Diego at a newly-opened psychedelic ballroom called The Hippodrome. The Hippodrome was a former roller skating rink, run by a bunch of inexperienced hippies, and had only been open since June. The Dead probably agreed to the date before the Hippodrome had even opened (less than 60 days earlier), a risky proposition. Risk? What's the risk? Just as big a question: what's the Reward?

The Grateful Dead in July 1968: Status Report
July 12-13, 1968 Kings Beach Bowl, North Lake Tahoe, CA: Grateful Dead/The Working Class
The Dead had played a weekend at Kings Beach Bowl in the previous Summer (August 25-26, 1967), and followed it up with a weekend during ski season (February 22-24, 1968). The operators of Kings Beach Bowl put the Dead up in some sort of Tahoe vacation home, so everybody must have had a lot of fun. One of the operators of the venue worked for the Sheriff's Department, so the cops weren't in the picture. The Summer '68 booking was probably long-standing, and much like a vacation. Working Class, the opening band, was from Sacramento. By 1969, they would evolve into San Paku, and ended up opening for the Dead a number of times. Members of the Working Class recall the weekend--vaguely--as a giant party. 

July 18, 1968: Release of Anthem Of The Sun
The official release date of Anthem Of The Sun was July 18, 1968. Without getting too wonky, it's worth noting that 60s album release dates were not nearly so precise as 70s release dates. By the mid-1970s, records were officially released on a certain day, usually a Tuesday. All the record stores would get the boxes of albums at the same time, and could not sell copies until the designated day. At the same time, FM radio stations had advance copies, and airplay, promotions and tours were structured around the release date.

The sixties weren't like that. It's possible that detailed coordination took place for Beatles records, or a few other high profile acts. Generally, though, most records were sold in department stores and drug stores, and albums were just a commodity like socks or shaving cream. The actual distribution of albums was largely farmed out to independent intermediaries (usually called "Rack Jobbers"). The boxes of manufactured albums were shipped weeks in advance, and would arrive at stores over a period of time. Sometimes albums arrived in stores after their "official" release date, and sometimes before. Many stores, particularly big chains, would want to limit what was in their precious shelf space to those albums being promoted by their companies. But there weren't prohibitions against selling an album before it's "official" release date.

If a teenager went into a store and asked if they had a new album, a friendly clerk could look in the waiting boxes and sell him one. If enough kids asked, the store would put the albums out on the rack. Once FM radio came along, and random cool album tracks started getting played, this happened more and more. If you read accounts of 60s rock tours, by the likes of Led Zeppelin for example, you'll read plenty of stories of people who bought an album before it's official release date. But the flip side also happened. Just because Warners declared July 18 the official release date, it didn't all mean that Anthem Of The Sun was in a given store at that time.

July 23, 1968: A New Soundman Gets Hired
The Grateful Dead's former soundman, Owsley Stanley, had been arrested in Orinda, CA in late 1967. The case had wound through the courts, and Owsley's bail conditions in Summer '68 required that he get a job. Owsley, honestly, didn't have much work experience. Other than a stint in the Air Force, his previous, perhaps only, job had been as soundman for the Grateful Dead. On July 23, 1968, the Dead re-hired Owsley Stanley as their soundman. Owsley was a quick study, of course, which was good, since the first show upon his return was just 10 days later at the Hippodrome.

San Diego, CA
San Diego, with its deepwater natural harbor and balmy weather, has been a city since the state of California was founded in 1850. Always an important base for the US Navy, the population of San Diego doubled between 1930 (147,995) and 1950 (333,865). Some of this was due to military expansion during World War 2, but of course many Navy veterans went through San Diego and realized what a nice place it was. Numerous defense contractors also moved permanently to San Diego during this period.

San Diego has perfect weather, all year around. It's warm in the Summer, but never scorching, it's never humid--I believe humidity is forbidden by County ordnance--and there is usually a cool ocean breeze. The temperature on Christmas Day is usually about 72 degrees, and often you can go to the beach. If you go to San Diego, everybody is friendly and in a good mood, and why wouldn't they be? When a professional conference is held in San Diego, everybody wants to stay there when it's over.

San Diego is about 110 miles South of Downtown Los Angeles, however, so the cultural life of San Diego is swallowed up by that proximity. Think of rock music, for example. Plenty of musicians grew up in the San Diego area. But if they had musical dreams, they went to Los Angeles, and so we think of players like former Byrd Chris Hillman and former Eagle Bernie Leadon as "LA musicians" even though they both grew up in San Diego. The most successful 60s rock band from San Diego was Iron Butterfly, but they had to go to the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood to make it big.

San Diego's WW2 expansion was built on defense spending, and postwar cutbacks hurt the economy. The City and County of San Diego diversified into science, research and tourism. The suburbs around San Diego expanded significantly. San Diego State University, founded in 1897 as a teacher's college, had expanded to an enrollment of over 10,000 students by 1959, and had joined the State College system (by 1960 it was San Diego State College). In 1964, the University of California had opened its UC San Diego campus in suburban La Jolla, with an emphasis on mathematics, engineering and scientific research. The population in San Diego continued to expand between 1960 (573,224) and 1970 (696,769), with corresponding increases in the smaller suburban towns around the city.

Downtown San Diego and Concert Promotion
For much of the 1960s, the San Diego concert market was just a satellite of the Los Angeles concert market. Artists doing a national tour would slip in an extra day in San Diego, before or after any other Southern California bookings. The principal local concert promoter was James C. Pagni, who had gone from throwing fraternity dances in the early 60s to booking name acts. In 1964, the Exposition Hall at the Community Concourse had opened downtown. It was an auditorium that could be used for sports events, trade shows or concerts. Usually advertised as the "Community Concourse" (now the Civic Concourse), it was at  202 West C Street, at 2nd Avenue (sometime in the early 1970s, the Community Concourse was remodeled and re-named Golden Hall).

Most major touring acts played the Community Concourse, regardless of genre, and that included 60s rock bands. Pagni had an established record with booking agents, so he had a firm grip on the local concert business. In 1969, the much larger San Diego Sports Arena opened (at 3500 Sports Arena Boulevard). It could hold between 8,000 and 14,000 for concerts, so Pagni could book big acts as well, like James Brown.

Pagni was an established concert promoter, but he wasn't popular with the local hippies. In 1968, Pagni had booked the big touring acts like Big Brother (February 9) and Cream (May 19) at the Community Concourse. But the local hippies didn't like Pagni shows. It's hard to tell what the issues were, but Pagni's professional productions probably ensured that the Concourse wasn't much like the Fillmore. It does appear that rock shows at the Community Concourse had reserved seats, so that alone meant that there wasn't any kind of loose Fillmore scene. Although San Diego is a benign town, by and large, culturally it has always been dominated by ex-military folks (for obvious reasons), and the free-thinkers always decamped to LA. Downtown San Diego was somewhat in decline by 1968, but it wasn't being replaced by a bohemian underground.

Something Stirring In The Suburbs?
Downtown San Diego might not have been thriving, but something was going on in the outskirts of town, as the suburbs were booming. Suburbs were booming all over California, of course, and it's no surprise that in a beautiful place like San Diego, once-small towns in driving distance of the city were getting bigger and bigger.

The town of La Jolla, on the ocean and just 12 miles North of downtown, had been the home of the esteemed Scripps Oceanography Institute since 1903, and also a Marine base (Camp Matthews). During and after World War 2, the civilian population of La Jolla had expanded, making Camp Matthews less suitable for firing practice. Ultimately, Camp Matthews was closed and "declared surplus" in 1962, and the land was used for the new University of California at San Diego. The first class of undergraduates enrolled at UCSD in 1964. 

The big attraction of La Jolla was the beach, of course, and that meant surfers. In early 60s Southern California, surfing was a weird, rebellious subculture. Middle-class young men (and their girlfriends) who organized their days around the tides, looking for the good waves, were not buying into the post-WW2 expectation that they should be a junior executive, join the Rotary Club, and raise 2.2 children. Tom Wolfe, a staff writer for the New York Herald Tribune Sunday Magazine, wrote a 2-part article about a bunch of teenagers he had stumbled across in La Jolla, published in February 1966.

Wolfe wrote an article called "The Pump House Gang," later the title and first chapter of a 1968 book of his collected articles. The Pump House Gang book was released at the same time as his more famous Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Though less dramatic, the "Pump House Gang" was just a less radical, but no less pronounced, rebellion by La Jolla teenagers against the conformist expectations of the world, just like Kesey and his Merry Pranksters up in Palo Alto.

Wolfe wrote about about some young surfers who hung out at the sewage pump house at La Jolla's Windansea Beach. Some were in High School, some were a little older. They considered the beach their own. What they didn't like was outsiders, from other suburbs, often older adults (probably about 35 years old), that the Gang considered interlopers. The teenagers would stare at the Moms in their station wagons, spit on the sidewalk and stage ad hoc sit-ins to prevent them from parking. Neighbors would call the police, and trouble would ensue. The Pump House Gang were mostly middle class, and the incidents were minor and passed by, but it was surfer rebellion nonetheless.

UC San Diego, which had just opened,  was more of a science school, but it was still the 60s. There were some "Be-Ins" at the beach in La Jolla, and a local band called Maya played at them. A few locals, George Driver and Ron "Anchovy" Barca helped put them on. San Diego was San Diego, though, not Greenwich Village. There weren't that many rebels. It was inevitable that they would meet and join forces. 

KPRI-fm, 106.5 FM, San Diego, CA
In 1967 and '68. the tipping point for rock music in most cities was the arrival of FM radio. FM radio broke the hegemony of Top 40, letting hippies hear cool album tracks from San Francisco and London. In San Diego, like most cities, rock radio on FM got its start in the middle of the night, but if you were tripping balls on LSD, what could be more appropriate?

Steve Brown (USN), stationed in San Diego, approached the owner of KPRI-fm in late 1967. At the time, FM radio was new, and not many people had FM receivers. Many new "Hi-Fi" stereos had FM receivers built-in, however. Young hippies were buying stereos to get the full effect of Beatles albums and the like, so there was an implicit audience. At the time, KPRI played typical MOR fare, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and so on. The (quite amazing) KPRI timeline picks up the story:

In December of 1967, all of that changed forever. Steve Brown approached Larry Shushan, owner and manager of KPRI and offered to keep the station on the air after their customary midnight sign-off time, as long as he could play any kind of music that he wanted.
There were no dollars offered for this service. Steve hit the airwaves of San Diego as O.B. Jetty, playing the Grateful Dead, Big Brother and The Holding Company, blues of all kinds and many bands that had never yet been heard on San Diego mainstream radio. Before long, Steve began gathering other like-minded people to to collaborate on those nightly journeys into the unknown, and the show "Electric Music For The Mind And Body" was born. The rest, as they say, is history.

Throughout early 1968, Brown and a co-conspirator hold down the midnight-to-3am shift at KPRI. By May, Brown and his fellows were broadcasting rock music 24/7. The underground had come to San Diego, unexpected as that might have seemed.

Translove Airways crew at the Hippodrome, Summer '68. Jerilyn Brandelius: "I’m the one with the big smile on the left side next to the girl with long hair (Suzanne Spackman) and below Ramon Rashover and above the guy with the white shirt"

The Threads Come Together

Once a city had FM radio playing album tracks, young people wanted to see the bands. And they weren't the bands playing on the top 40 teenage circuit. San Diego needed its own Fillmore. Ron "Anchovy" Barca and George Driver, who had put on the Be-Ins in La Jolla in '67 were the primary organizers. Somehow, they found an old roller skating rink downtown at Front and G Street, once known as Skateland. They formed a production company called Translove Airways, after the lyrics from a Donovan song (from "Fat Angel:" it went "Fly Translove Airways, get you there on time/...Fly Jefferson Airplane, get you there on time"). They dressed up the Roller Rink, and opened it in June as The Hippodrome.

Among the Pump House Gang was one Jerilyn Brandelius (1948-2020), who would go on to play a big role in the Grateful Dead universe in the 70s and beyond. In her memoir, she wrote:

Translove Airways was our production company we created when we got the Hippodrome Ballroom in 1968. A group of us from La Jolla lived in San Francisco from 1965 until 1967. San Diego county was getting too hard for longhairs due to it being a military town during the Vietnam war, so we split to the freedom of San Francisco. We met many of the bands and decided to bring them to San Diego and open our own place like the Avalon & Fillmore.

Hippodrome Shows
The headliners at the Hippodrome were almost exclusively San Francisco bands. The opening acts were local San Diego bands, but there weren't that many of them. The first booking at The Hippodrome was for the weekend of June 7 and 8, with the Steve Miller Band headlining both nights. At the time, the Miller Band had just released their great debut album on Capitol, Children Of The Future. Side One was a continuous suite of music, not eligible for play on Top 40, but no doubt getting plenty on KPRI.

The Hippodrome only booked shows on Friday and Saturday nights, a sign that the underground market was both young and still just forming. The second weekend featured the Velvet Underground, which must have been pretty strange--San Diego doesn't do darkness. The next weekend (June 21-22) featured Mike Bloomfield and the Electric Flag, and the following one (June 28-29) was headlined by David Lindley and Kaleidoscope, one of (if not the) best underground bands in Los Angeles. Great as all these shows sound now, however, none of those groups would have been particularly well-known at the time.

During the same month of June, however, James Pagni was putting on rock shows at the nearby Community Concourse. The Mothers Of Invention played June 1, Eric Burdon and The Animals played June 18 and Canned Heat on June 25. Now, today, we care much more about the likes of the Velvet Underground and Kaleidoscope. In 1968, however, songs like "Sky Pilot" (Eric Burdon) and "Going Up The Country" (Canned Heat) were big on the radio, and they were both more popular bands (and I should add, both terrific live). Now, granted, the Burdon and Heat shows were on Wednesdays, since the prime bookings were saved for Los Angeles. So the weekend shows at Hippodrome would have been more accessible to suburban teenagers, but the acts were not as prominent as the ones at Community Concourse.

The Hippodrome, July 1968
Hippodrome bookings for July were even more shaky. Around July 4, which was on a Thursday, Dr. John The Night Tripper was supposed to headline, supported by two Bay Area bands. According to Sons Of Champlin road manager Charlie Kelly, however, Dr. John canceled. This left the largely unknown Sons and Boogie, another Bay Area band. The Sons had not yet released their debut album, and the group had barely played outside of the Bay Area.

For that weekend (July 5-6), there was a legendary show with the Quicksilver Messenger Service headlining over the returning Velvet Underground. Quicksilver, besides being hip, had just released their debut album on Capitol, and no doubt it was getting heavy airplay on KPRI. There are some descriptions of this show in Ritchie Unterburger's Velvet Underground chronology (White Light White Heat), and it sounds like a truly special event.

Dr John finally turned up on the weekend of July 12-13. His debut album, Gris Gris, had been released fairly recently. Once again, Dr John is widely revered today, and rightly so, but he was pretty obscure at the time. I doubt he drew much of a crowd. Bo Diddley headlined the next weekend (July 19-20), enjoyable no doubt, but hardly a must-see event for suburban teen hippies.

Throughout July, James Pagni was promoting rock shows at the Community Concourse on Tuesdays. While Tuesday is a weeknight, the rock audience was mostly school-age, and thus in the Summer it wasn't a school night. The Tuesday night shows had much more prominent bands--Iron Butterfly, Paul Butterfield and Steppenwolf. As noted above, today we dream of time-traveling back to see the Velvet Underground or Kaleidoscope, but at the time, "Magic Carpet Ride" or "Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida" was a much bigger draw. Those bands were available on Tuesdays because they had better bookings on weekends.

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band played Thursday, July 25. This suggests that they had a better booking on the weekend, probably in LA, and that it wasn't worth it to them to play a whole weekend in San Diego. It also means that the Hippodrome didn't have the cash to book them all weekend, either. I can find no trace of a Hippodrome show on the weekend of July 26-27, another ominous sign for its financial well-being.

Owsley Stanley and Jerry Garcia at the San Diego Airport, August 1968
August 2-3, 1968 The Hippodrome, San Diego, CA: Grateful Dead/Curly Cooke's Hurdy Gurdy Band/Maya (Friday-Saturday)
The Grateful Dead played the first weekend in August at the Hippodrome. It was the band's first shows after the formal release of Anthem Of The Sun. The truth is, we know almost nothing about the show except that it was booked. If the poster had not been published in Paul Grushkin's book Art Of Rock, we might not have even known that. I'm not aware of an eyewitness account. Since Jerilyn Brandelius never mentioned that it was canceled, we can assume it happened, but beyond that I can only draw a blank (if anyone can find any accounts or references, please cite them in the Comments).

The Hippodrome was Owsley's first show as the returning soundman. Knowing Owsley's penchance for perfectionism, it's unlikely the technical set up was to his liking, so I'll bet the Dead didn't hustle right on to the stage. We don't have a tape. I'm no expert in this area, but I don't believe Owsley began taping until somewhat later.

Owsley was already an underground legend. There was a photo Owsley and Jerry, taken at the San Diego Airport (above). For many years, it was just about the only circulating photo of Owsley. Given that it was Owsley's first weekend, my guess is that when someone took a photo, Owsley realized it was going to get around, and took enormous pains not to be photographed again. There are a few backstage and private photos that eventually surfaced, mostly after his death, but my guess is that Owsley rapidly realized that Garcia was a magnet, and did not go near him in public after that.

Last Dance: Autumn Equinox Festival

September 22, 1968: Del Mar Fairgrounds, Del Mar, CA: Quicksilver Messenger Service/Grateful Dead/Buddy Miles Express (formerly The Electric Flag)/Youngbloods/Taj Mahal/Mother Earth/Sons Of Champlin/Ace Of Cups/Phoenix/Curly Cooke's Hurdy Gurdy Band (Saturday)
After the Grateful Dead shows on August 2-3, I can find no trace of any more bookings at the Hippodrome, so it must have closed. Still, the hippies who ran it had one more event in them. Somehow they found the financing to put on an all-day rock festival at a former Ostrich Racing track in the suburbs. Yes, a former Ostrich Racing track, you read that correctly. It was actually the County Fairgrounds, established in 1937 as a horse racing track by Bing Crosby and his associates, but Ostriches apparently raced there (in the 1980s, Del Mar Fairgrounds became an auto racing track, but it's now houses I believe update: I had this wrong. The Fairgrounds and the horse racing track is still thriving. The auto track was a temporary facility in the parking lot, used for IMSA racing from 1987-92).

Eyewitnesses reported that it was a nice afternoon--hey, it was San Diego, right?--and a nice time, although the event was not well-attended. The underpinning to the booking seems to be that most of the bands were tied to the same booking agency, San Francisco's West-Pole. West-Pole was run by Quicksilver manager Ron Polte, and they had ties to many other bands in San Francisco, including the Dead. From looking at the list of bands at the Equinox Festival, we see a number of bands that played the Hippodrome, so we can see that West-Pole was tied in to booking for the Hippodrome. Curly Cooke's Hurdy Gurdy Band, featuring ex-Steve Miller Band guitarist Cooke, was booked by West-Pole, which explains why they had opened the Grateful Dead weekend.

Ron Polte also regularly promoted shows, through another wing of his company, so I suspect Polte financed the show, booked the bands and hired the Hippodrome crowd to actually put it on. After that, as far as I know, the Hippodrome crowd went their own ways, leaving San Diego concert booking to others.


The Grateful Dead returned to San Diego, albeit intermittently. In 1969 (on May 11), the Dead played a concert at the Aztec Bowl (the San Diego State football stadium), along with Canned Heat, Lee Michaels and Santana. The promoter was the new hippie competitor to the Pagni kingdom, a former assistant named Roger Hedgecock. Hedgecock had some success promoting concerts, but ultimately left the field. Later, he became Mayor of San Diego.

The band played the Community Concourse in 1970 (on January 10), but I'm not sure who the promoter was (Magna Productions is on the poster). In subsequent years they played for Pacific Presentations (1971 and '73), old friends from the Shrine in LA, and in 1978 for Bill Graham. The band almost played a show for James Pagni, in 1972 or so, but it was canceled (probably due to lack of ticket sales). San Diego was not really a big market for the Dead until their last several years, and by then everywhere was a big market. So the efforts to plant the seed in San Diego in 1968 were well-intentioned, but didn't add up to anything significant, really, other than a great Fall '73 show (on November 14). 

Captain Milkshake
was one of the first "Anti-Vietnam" hippie movies, financed in the wake of the unexpected success of Easy Rider, and released in 1970. The IMDB blurb says "A Marine on leave from Vietnam becomes involved with hippies, communes and drug-running." It was filmed in and around La Jolla, and includes scenes from inside the Hippodrome. The Translove Airways crowd appears in the movie, mostly as themselves. Ron Barca plays "Anchovy."

Jerilyn Brandelius decamped North, and helped run the show for Chet Helms at his Family Dog on the Great Highway enterprise in 1969 and '70. Ultimately, Jerilyn and Mickey Hart had two kids, and she became a regular part of the Grateful Dead family. Her Grateful Dead scrapbook (now online) is a fascinating chronicle of life from the inside. She died in 2020.

Steve Brown (OB Jetty), who had been the key to starting KPRI and the underground rock explosion in San Diego, missed out on the San Diego Summer of '68. Brown was in the US Navy, and the Navy decided to send him to Vietnam from June to December. He returned intact. But never fear--ultimately he came up to San Francisco and helped found Round Records with Jerry Garcia.

KPRI-fm (106.5) was hugely successful, so much that the station had been sold to Southwestern Broadcasting in mid-1968. By early 1969, KPRI was the #4 station in San Diego, in all formats (AM, FM, news, music etc). Southwestern Broadcasting decided to switch to a Top-40 format during the daytime in Spring '69. The change was a catastrophe, and KPRI reverted to all album rock by the Summer. KPRI remained a top rock station in San Diego for many years.

James Pagni (1943-2005) remained the king of the San Diego concert business until about 1974, when he stepped aside and into a successful career in the restuarant business.

Appendix: San Diego Rock Concerts, June-September 1968
June 1, 1968 Community Concourse, San Diego, CA: Mothers of Invention (Saturday) Presented by James C. Pagni
The Community Concourse was at 202 West C Street (at 2nd Avenue). Shows were presented in the Exhibition Hall (which was later remodeled and re-named Golden Hall).

June 7-8, 1968 The Hippodrome, San Diego, CA: Steve Miller Band/Alexander’s Timeless Blooze Band/Baptized By Fire (Friday-Saturday) Trans-Love Airways Presents
The Hippodrome was downtown at Front and G Streets.

June 14-15, 1968 The Hippodrome, San Diego, CA: Velvet Underground/Clover/Maya (Friday-Saturday) Trans-Love Airways Presents

June 18, 1968 Community Concourse, San Diego, CA: Eric Burdon & The Animals/Brain Police (Wednesday) Presented by James C. Pagni

June 21-22, 1968 The Hippodrome, San Diego, CA: Electric Flag/Clover/Pacific Flash (Friday-Saturday) Trans-Love Airways Presents

June 25, 1968 Community Concourse, San Diego, CA: Canned Heat (Wednesday) Presented by James C. Pagni

June 28-29, 1968 The Hippodrome, San Diego, CA: Kaleidoscope/Baptized By Fire/Maya (Friday-Saturday) Trans-Love Airways Presents

June 29, 1968 Community Concourse, San Diego, CA: The Doors/Chambers Brothers (Saturday) Scenic Sounds Presents
Scenic Sounds were Los Angeles promoters, who had evolved from the team that promoted shows at Los Angeles' Shrine Exposition Hall. Later, Scenic Sounds management formed Pacific Presentations.

July 2, 1968 Community Concourse, San Diego, CA: Iron Butterfly (Tuesday) Presented by James C. Pagni

July 2-3, 1968 The Hippodrome, San Diego, CA: (Dr. John)/Sons of Champlin/Boogie (Tuesday-Wednesday) Trans-Love Airways Presents
Date approximated from a memoir on the website of  Sons roadie Charlie Kelly.  Dr. John The Night Tripper was the headliner, but he canceled. Boogie was a Bay Area power trio.  

July 4, 1968 The Hippodrome, San Diego, CA: Velvet Underground (Thursday)
July 5-6, 1968 The Hippodrome, San Diego, CA:  Quicksilver Messenger Service/Velvet Underground
(Friday-Saturday) Trans-Love Airways Presents
Velvet Underground played by themselves on Thursday night. This week is the only (known) week where the Hippodrome was open most nights of the week. The weekend shows were reviewed, with both bands getting impressive notices. VU must have been getting some airplay on KPRI, because fans seem to have known who they were.

July 9, 1968 Community Concourse, San Diego, CA: Paul Butterfield Blues Band (Tuesday) Presented by James C. Pagni

July 12-13, 1968 The Hippodrome, San Diego, CA: Dr. John The Night Tripper and His Louisiana Voodoo Show (Friday-Saturday) Trans-Love Airways Presents

July 16, 1968 Community Concourse, San Diego, CA: Paul Butterfield Blues Band/Framework (Tuesday) Presented by James C. Pagni

July 19-20, 1968 The Hippodrome, San Diego, CA: Bo Diddley/Maya/Frumious Bandersnatch (Friday-Saturday) Trans-Love Airways Presents

July 23, 1968 Community Concourse, San Diego, CA: Steppenwolf/Brain Police (Tuesday) Presented by James C. Pagni

July 25, 1968 The Hippodrome, San Diego, CA: Butterfield Blues Band/Maya/Early Morning Blues Band (Thursday) Trans-Love Airways Presents

July 30, 1968 Community Concourse, San Diego, CA: Moby Grape (Tuesday) Presented by James C. Pagni

August 2-3, 1968 The Hippodrome, San Diego, CA:  Grateful Dead/Curly Cooke’s Hurdy Gurdy Band/Maya (Friday-Saturday) Trans-Love Airways Presents

August 10, 1968 Community Concourse, San Diego, CA: Jefferson Airplane (Saturday) Presented by James C. Pagni

August 13, 1968 Community Concourse, San Diego, CA: Spirit/Jello’s Gas Band (Tuesday) Presented by James C. Pagni

August 20, 1968 Community Concourse, San Diego, CA:  James Cotton Blues Band (Tuesday) Presented by James C. Pagni

August 27 1968 Community Concourse, San Diego, CA:  The Who/Brain Police (Tuesday) Presented by James C. Pagni

September 3, 1968 Balboa Stadium, San Diego Jimi Hendrix Experience/Vanilla Fudge/Eire Apparent/Soft Machine  (Tuesday) James C Pagni Presents

September 22, 1968 Del Mar Fairgrounds, Del Mar, CA Grateful Dead/Buddy Miles Express/Taj Mahal/Quicksilver Messenger Service/Sons of Champlin/Mother Earth/Curly Cooke’s Hurdy-Gurdy Band/Youngbloods/Ace of Cups/Phoenix (Saturday)

September 28, 1968 Community Concourse, San Diego, CA:  Big Brother and The Holding Company (Friday) James C Pagni Presents