Wednesday, March 24, 2021

August 19-September 4, 1967 (Forces Tear Loose From The Axis)

Grateful Dead history is so full of events that most historians deal with it serially. Each stream of the band's history tends to be reviewed in isolation, in order to keep the myriad details from flooding the zone and eradicating any chance for coherence. This was particularly true in the 1960s, when much was happening in the world, and Grateful Dead World itself was a vortex of events that often threatened to drown the band members at the center of The Singularity.

Once in a while, however, it's a valuable effort to consider Time in its own terms, just to see how much was happening. One such sliver of time was the 18 days in 1967 from Saturday, August 19 through Monday, September 4. So many things happened in Grateful Dead history during this brief period, most of them fairly well documented, but usually only discussed in isolation. For today, let's consider them in order, as they happened.

Between August 19 and September 4, 1967, quite a lot happened in the world of the Grateful Dead:
  • The band played five shows, in four venues
  • Jerry Garcia and Mountain Girl went camping [update: fellow scholar LIA sorted out some timeline details, so I updated the post accordingly]
  • Cream played two weeks at the Fillmore, and reshaped the possibilities of electric music in ways that would greatly favor the Grateful Dead
  • Jerry Garcia saw at least two and likely more of those Cream shows
  • Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann met
  • After hitchhiking throughout the Southwest, Robert Hunter returned to San Francisco at Jerry Garcia's request, and joined the Grateful Dead as house songwriter
  • Hunter wrote the lyrics to "Dark Star."

The Players

The Grateful Dead
The Grateful Dead had released their debut album back on Warner Brothers back in March. It hadn't done particularly well, but releasing an album made a local band into a "real" band. The group was gigging steadily, and actually making a living. The band lived together at 710 Ashbury (except for Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzmann, who lived on Belvedere street, nearby). The entire country was now aware of San Francisco bands, and 1967 was "The Summer Of Love." The Grateful Dead were San Francisco's official ambassadors of hippiedom, playing for free in Golden Gate Park and elsewhere. The five band members had been in the group together since June, 1965.

During our two-weeks-plus stretch, the Grateful Dead would play five shows

  • August 19, 1967 American Legion Hall, South Lake Tahoe, CA: Grateful Dead
  • August 25-26, 1967 Kings Beach Bowl, North Lake Tahoe, CA: Grateful Dead/The Creators
  • August 28, 1967 Lindley Meadows, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA: Big Brother and The Holding Company/Grateful Dead "Party for Chocolate George"
  • September 3, 1967 Dance Hall, Rio Nido, CA: Grateful Dead
Robert Hunter
In the mid-60s, Robert Hunter had been focused on making a living as a writer. He had played in a bluegrass trio with his best friends Jerry Garcia and David Nelson, but had been bumped aside for better musicians. In late 1966, Jerry Garcia had encouraged Hunter to come to Los Angeles to help the Grateful Dead record their album in a Hollywood studio. Hunter had declined. Although the details have always been a bit murky, At some point in the Spring, Hunter had sent Garcia a letter with some proposed song lyrics. Also, by Spring 1967, Hunter was concerned about his own excesses with methedrine, and had departed to New Mexico, probably around June.
Around July, after having spent a month or so in New Mexico, recovering from various past excess, Hunter received a letter from Jerry Garcia, telling him that the band was rehearsing the song "Alligator," using lyrics that Hunter had sent him. Jerry encouraged him to join the band (McNally p. 219). Hunter considered his options, which were probably few, and decided to head back to San Francisco and join Garcia and the Dead.

Mickey Hart
In the Summer of 1967, Mickey Hart was mainly a drum instructor and instrument salesman at his father's drum shop, Hart Music in San Carlos. He lived with one of his students (probably in a suburban garage apartment). He played a little bit in bands, and also spent time riding horses and practicing martial arts. Hart had played about in a few groups, and he knew a lot of drummers, but he wasn't really part of the local rock music scene.

Cream had formed in London in 1966. Guitarist Eric Clapton had become a star, having success with the Yardbirds and "For Your Love" and then with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. Bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker had been in the popular Graham Bond Organization, as well some other bands. When they formed, music papers like Melody Maker had them pegged as an All-Star organisation from their inception. Cream's debut album Fresh Cream had been released on Atco in December, 1966.

In March, 1967, the Cream had played a corny radio event in Manhattan at the RKO Theater (nine shows from March 25-April 2, where they played one or two songs with a plethora of other groups). The band had returned to New York in May, 1967 to record their forthcoming album, but it would not be released until later in the year (the staggering Disraeli Gears was released in November 1967). Cream would begin their American tour with ten nights at the Fillmore Auditorium from August 22 through September 3, 1967.

Day-By-Day: August 19-September 4, 1967
To illustrate these remarkable weeks, I have constructed a day-by-day timeline. With the exception of the known concerts, most of the events could have taken place on more than one day in a given week, so I have simply made plausible guesses. Still, these events happened pretty much in the order in which I list them, even if individual actions may be off by a night or two. 

The American Legion Hall in South Lake Tahoe, CA, at 2748 Lake Tahoe Blvd [US-50]

Saturday, August 19, 1967 American Legion Hall, South Lake Tahoe, CA: Grateful Dead
On Saturday, August 19, 1967, the Grateful Dead were booked at the American Legion Hall in South Lake Tahoe. Lake Tahoe was a deep lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Just 200 miles Northeast of San Francisco, it had been the City's playground since the end of the 19th century. A significant feature of Lake Tahoe, however, was that there was gambling on the Nevada side of the lake (usually referred to as 'North Lake Tahoe'), so the casinos focused on the high-end trade there. The California side (usually referred to as 'South Lake Tahoe,' although the geography doesn't quite fit that) was more of the family side. After Lake Tahoe boomed following the 1960 Winter Olympics, the California side of the lake was left for "the kids," because the adults wanted to go to Nevada and gamble. As a result, for a resort area, the California side of Lake Tahoe in the 1960s had a peculiar focus on rock and roll that is largely undocumented, except by me.
The first person to catch on to the vast quantity of teenagers in Lake Tahoe was a guitarist named Jim Burgett. He started putting on dances at the South Lake Tahoe American Legion Hall (at 2748 Lake Tahoe Blvd [US 50], South Lake Tahoe, CA) in 1958. The story is complicated, but by the mid-60s Burgett was holding dances at the Legion Hall seven days a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day. For any teenagers spending a week, a month or a Summer in Lake Tahoe, every night was Friday night, and with the parents often away in Nevada anyway, the Legion Hall dances were the only show in town. Burgett's own band played most nights, but on occasion he hired out of town acts as well. When the Fillmore bands became popular, he would often hire them to give his own band a night off (Burgett's band also played six days a week in the afternoon at Harrah's Tahoe, believe it or not).  

The Grateful Dead were booked at the Legion Hall for Saturday night, giving Burgett's band a rest. Old Lake Tahoe comment threads say that the Dead played until well after 2 AM. For many teenagers in Lake Tahoe, the Fillmore was too far away from their suburb, or simply off limits. So the Grateful Dead coming to Lake Tahoe was like having the Fillmore at your high school, all while your parents were probably off gambling in North Lake Tahoe. 
Robert Hunter was still on the road, hitchhiking somewhere between Taos, NM and Las Vegas. He had left New Mexico in early August with 20 dollars, and took various wrong turns that included a ride to Denver. The journey took a few weeks. Hunter, per McNally (pp. 219-220) was not in a good way. In Denver, Hunter saw the new Grateful Dead album in a supermarket, and it was a reminder of where he was trying to go.

Sunday, August 20
The Grateful Dead had played South Lake Tahoe on Saturday night. Esteemed scholar LightIntoAshes picks up the story here:
we do know the Dead were back in San Francisco by the evening of August 20. McNally writes, "The Dead were to play on August 20 at a gathering on Mount Tamalpais, but when they got to the mountaintop, they discovered that there was no power, and the event turned into what Rifkin called 'a bongofest.'" (p.212) 
An article from the Berkeley Barb confirms this event:
"The Festival of Om on Mount Tamalpais Sunday began with beautiful vibrations and ended in a mess of mishaps and non-communication. Although the fire marshall was notified of the would-be gathering, no official permit was obtained. The fire marshall, probably expecting a nice group, was confronted with about 2,500 happy hippies. 
The Grateful Dead was to play for the gathering, but ended up with a burnt-out generator. At which point some people took up the entertainment by banging on garbage cans. Richard Webster of The Flame arrived on the scene about 9:30 p.m. He said, "By 10:30 there were some 250 people on the side of the hill and about two or three people with candles."
Forest rangers, alarmed by the flickering lights, heard the garbage can din and thought the hippies were throwing firecrackers. They called in re-enforcements. (The area has been very dry and dangerous fires are easily set.)
Word was given to Webster that the cops were on the way to bust for being in the park illegally. After some waiting, the crowd dispersed quietly.
There were no busts reported." ("Hip-Hash" column, Berkeley Barb 8/25/67, p.6)
There had been a few rock shows at the mountain theater on Mt. Tamalpais. Rock shows had gotten too popular for the venue, however, particularly with respect to the parking at the foot of the mountain and the difficult, windy access road. After the widely attended two-day Magic Mountain Festival on June 10-11, 1967 (the week before Monterey Pop), the County had declared that there would be no more rock concerts at the theater. One more weekend show went off as scheduled, the Festival Of Growing Things on June 30-July 1, but there were no more rock concerts on Mt Tamalpais until the 21st century, as far as I know. The August event was an attempt to bypass the ban, but clearly it didn't work.

On Sunday night in England, Cream played the Redcar Jazz Club at the Coatham Hotel, in Cleveland, England. Cleveland is in Yorkshire. This was Cream's last UK show before coming to the United States.

Robert Hunter was still hitchhiking.
A BGP poster for Fillmore shows during August 15-21, 1967. Count Basie, Chuck Berry, Charles Lloyd and the Young Rascals are highlighted

Sunday and Monday, August 20-21, 1967 Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA: Count Basie Orchestra/Charles Lloyd Quartet

Monday, August 21
Logic tells us that Cream must have flown from London to San Francisco on August 21. I assume they flew BOAC from Heathrow to SFO. 

At this juncture, Mickey Hart met Bill Kreutzmann. Kreutzmann and Hart saw Count Basie at the Fillmore on either Sunday (August 20) or Monday (August 21), but it's impossible to be certain which without more information, which may never be forthcoming. Given that the Dead were apparently expecting to play Mt. Tam on Sunday, Monday (the 21st) seems more likely. For our purposes, it doesn't matter so much which day it happened, just that it happened this week, so I will assign the story to Monday.

The story of the meeting of Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart has been told by many writers. The primary source of the story always seems to be Mickey Hart, except of course in Bill Kreutzmann's autobiography. All the versions of the story vary somewhat, and they make it difficult to determine the exact facts of the matter. Now, the story was old when people started asking Mickey about it, and nobody ran down the details when they could have been more easily recovered, so there are a number of contradictions. 

Still--the essence of the story remains the same: Mickey Hart was with former Count Basie drummer Sonny Payne, whom Hart had befriended two years earlier. They were at the Fillmore, and an unknown stranger told Hart that he ought to meet another stranger, Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann. The mysterious stranger introduced them. Later, Payne, Hart and Kreuzmann went to see Janis Joplin and Big Brother and The Holding Company, but Payne found them too loud. Payne left, and later Hart and Kreutzmann went around the city playing drums on garbage cans and car hoods, talking rhythm. Kreutzmann got Hart's phone number and invited him to a Grateful Dead rehearsal. It's a great story, and it lead to the famous two-headed drum chair partnership of Mickey and Billy.

It's a great story, indeed. There are so many contradictions in the story, however, that it's hard to encompass them all. It doesn't change the essential transmission--Hart was hanging with Sonny Payne, a stranger introduced him to Billy K, and Mickey ended up in the Grateful Dead. Still, there are many confusing angles to this story. Let's review them:

Sonny Payne and Count Basie
Count Basie and His Orchestra, supported by Charles Lloyd (with Keith Jarrett, drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Ron McClure), were playing the Fillmore Auditorium on Sunday and Monday, August 20 and 21. Charles Lloyd's Quartet had played the whole week, supporting Chuck Berry and Steve Miller Band (August 15-17) and then the Young Rascals on Friday and Saturday (August 18-19). The Count Basie booking, however, wasn't really directed at Bay Area hippies. Instead, Count Basie's audience was his mostly African-American fans, many of whom lived right there in the Fillmore district. Basie had played the Fillmore many times for promoter Charles Sullivan (Graham's predecessor). Graham was no fool--if there was a profitable booking, he was going to be all for it. Basie, perpetually on the road, has a gig in Mt. Tamalpais Theater on Sunday afternoon--the same day and the same place where the Dead had their power-less "bongo fest" later that evening--, and was starting a booking at The Showcase on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland on Tuesday (August 22). According to Philip Elwood's review in the Examiner, the crowd was evenly split between older African-Americans and hippies, but the light show was running.

Drummer Sonny Payne in action

Sonny Payne and Mickey Hart had become friends when Hart had been in the US Air Force, back in 1965, per Dennis McNally. Hart, other than being a judo instructor, mainly played music in the very high-class Air Force big band. The band had played some gigs in Germany, where there were plenty of US Servicemen, and groups like the Count Basie Orchestra had been booked as well. Hart jammed with all sorts of musicians, and Payne and he became friends. At the time, Payne was Count Basie's drummer, and had been so for many years. Payne left Count Basie's Orchestra at the end of 1965, and mostly played with Harry James' band. Payne continued to play with the Count Basie Orchestra, however, whenever Frank Sinatra was singing with them. According to Elwood's review (below), Sonny Payne was temporarily filling in for regular drummer Rufus Jones. Big bands didn't run like rock groups, and substitutes were common.

Big Brother And The Holding Company
Most versions of the saga have the newly-introduced pair going over to The Matrix to see Janis Joplin and Big Brother and The Holding Company. In the Hart version, Sonny Payne thinks that Big Brother was too loud, and leaves. Kreutzmann's version has him inviting Mickey over to see Janis at the Matrix--Kreutzmann would have been allowed in regardless of ticket sales--and doesn't mention Sonny Payne. In any case, since Sonny Payne was Basie's drummer, he might have had to return for a late set anyway.

The difficulty with this delicious story is that the Matrix had no one booked on this Monday night, much less Big Brother. Also, Big Brother was headlining the Avalon for the entire weekend  (Thursday-Sunday, August 24-27)--why would they be playing the 100-seat Matrix three days before? Now, sure, it's possible that Big Brother was working on new material or had some other reason for an unpublicized private show (and indeed, Chet Helms would have insisted on no publicity for a club show prior to the Avalon booking). It's also true that if Big Brother were playing an unannounced show, a member of The Grateful Dead would have known about it. Still, it's another thing about the Hart-Kreutzmann meeting that doesn't quite sync up with known facts.
Phil Lesh
Phil Lesh also attended the show with Bill Kreuzmann. It's not surprising, since Phil and Bill were roommates (they lived on Belvedere Street, near 710, in a house owned by attorney Brian Rohan). When we were in our 20s, what did we do on an off night?--why, go check out some bands with your roommate. So Phil and Bill hit the Fillmore. In his autobiography, Lesh has a detailed description of the power and precision of the Basie band, so it clearly had a musical impact. He also mentions the meeting of Hart and Kreutzmann, but Lesh's description comes right out of the McNally book. So Phil was there, but doesn't really seem to have been witness to the meeting. 
A historiographical problem with well-studied subjects is that someone like Phil Lesh (and his editors) would have reviewed all the material that came before them, so repeating it only means it doesn't contradict what Phil recalls, without it really being a memory. For example, Phil recalls Count Basie playing with Chuck Berry, when it was actually Charles Lloyd. That means Phil didn't look closely enough at the poster (Berry had played earlier in the week, but he is displayed side-by-side with the Count). It doesn't materially change his story, but we have to be cautious about his description of the initial meeting, since he didn't see it.

Yet Another Eyewitness
Bill Kreutzmann's story in Deal adds another generally unknown facet to the famous Hart-Kreutzmann meeting: Mickey Hart's student/landlord Mike Hinton was there with Hart. So it wasn't just Hart and Kreutzmann who left the Matrix and drummed on random objects throughout the city, but Mike Hinton as well. Hinton isn't nobody, by any means. Among many other things, he was a Broadway professional, leading Liza Minelli's band for many years, and working on many Broadway productions. He was also in the legendary Diga Rhythm Band, both live and in the studio, and played with them in Golden Gate Park when Jerry Garcia dropped by for a little "Fire On The Mountain" action.

No one has actually interviewed Hinton about this famous meeting (journalists do interviews, you know who you are--I'm a blogger and do no such thing). From what I can piece together, Hinton, a few years younger than Hart, was one of his students. Hart also lived with him, but by triangulation I think the deal was something like Hart living in Hinton's family house (I have always presumed a garage apartment or something similar). So Hart and Hinton were close both as drummers and as friends. Hinton is worthy of a post on his own, but that is a topic for another day.  Since Hinton appears to have been Hart's roommate, that means Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzmann both went to the Fillmore with their roommates.

Just to answer a few other questions that may arise:

The BGP poster for the Butterfield Blues Band, Cream and Southside Sound System at the Fillmore during the week of August 22-27, 1967

Tuesday, August 22
Cream debuted at the Fillmore on Tuesday night. if you look at the original poster, while Cream's name is the biggest, the more established Butterfield Blues Band are actually "above" Cream, probably fulfilling any agreements with Butterfield's booking agent and manager. Southside Sound System, with harmonica man Charlie Musselwhite and guitarist Harvey Mandel, were third on the bill.

At this great remove, it's easy to either to take Bill Graham for granted, or else to complain about some decision or other that doesn't look so right in retrospect. Put all that aside for now. Bill Graham took a huge chance on Cream, made a huge bet, and not only won that bet, but he made the career of Eric Clapton and changed the arc of rock music, all in the space of two weeks at the Fillmore. The Grateful Dead were but one of many beneficiaries, and--indeed--by extension so was I and perhaps most of the readers of this blog.

Although Cream had been flagged at its formation as a collection of great musicians, Americans didn't read Melody Maker or New Musical Express. Cream's debut album, Fresh Cream, had been released by Atco in December 1966. It had no AM radio hits. The difference in San Francisco was KMPX-fm, the first major market free-form "underground" FM radio station. KMPX had debuted in April, 1967. KMPX djs played album tracks they liked, 24/7, instead of hit singles. Tracks from Fresh Cream were played all the time. Now, there were some pretty cool songs on Fresh Cream, like "Spoonful," but none of them were the epic, extended live versions that Cream fans would associate with the band. No matter. "Spoonful," "Cat's Squirrel," "Four Until Late," "Sleepy Time Time," "Rollin' And Tumblin:" the future of rock music hadn't arrived yet, but you could see it from here. The longest track was 6 minutes, 30 seconds ("Spoonful"), which by mid-68 would be nothing, but was really unheard of in late 1966.

Cream were a popular live band in England, and touring hard. For rock shows in England at that time, however, headliners typically played 25-30 minutes. 40 minutes was a long show. There were often multiple acts on the bill, each doing a short set. Some clubs had an early and late show, turning the house over, so the headliner would play two sets to different audiences. When Cream got to San Francisco, they were surprised to find out from Bill Graham that they were expected to play sets of 45 minutes to an hour. On top of that, although they would be doing an early and late set, the house would not "turn over," so bands were expected not to repeat themselves. Cream were in a panic--they didn't have 90 minutes of material, much less two hours.

Cream weren't even the first English headliners to panic at the Fillmore's expectation. The Who had started their US Summer Tour at the Fillmore in June (June 16-17), and were shocked to find out that as headliners, they would have to play 2 hours of material without repeating. The Who sent their manager out to the record store, and he bought the first two Who albums (The Who Sings My Generation and Happy Jack), got a record player from the hotel, and the Who spent the first afternoon of their tour frantically re-learning their old songs, most of which they had never played live.

Cream didn't have two albums, and they didn't have years together of playing R&B covers, either, so they couldn't take the path The Who took. They took a different one. They decided to just jam out on every song, and extend their set that way. Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton played through giant Marshall amps, and Ginger Baker was as loud a drummer as you can imagine. So Cream was going to do the Coltrane thing, but they were going to do it loud.

Rock music was never the same. Everything had changed, first for the fans, then for the musicians and ultimately for the music industry. Word got around the city, fast. The Cream were blasting it out all night long, and as one old hippie said once, "I couldn't believe anybody could be that good and that loud for that long." The Fillmore was wall-to-wall, for two weeks. Supposedly there were 3500 people some nights, when the Fillmore "officially" only held about 1500. Fans came, told their friends, and came back with them.
Wednesday, August 23
I can't be certain of the exact day, but Garcia must have heard I think he heard that Cream was killing it at the Fillmore. I think he went both Wednesday and Thursday, but he definitely went one of these nights. He also went the next week. Here's what he said later that month:
"I would say the Cream are damn near the best group there is... Their music is really strong. I mean, really strong... They're much better musicians than Jimi Hendrix... You should have seen them at the Fillmore...cause they played with a lot of very heavy bands. They played with Gary Burton's band. They played with the Electric Flag. They played with Paul Butterfield's band and with Charlie Musselwhite's band. And they made them all sound pretty old-fashioned..."
Butterfield and Musselwhite were playing the first week, so we know Garcia went one of these nights. I'll bet Garcia went on Wednesday, and went back on Thursday night. I mean--I would have, and you would have, and we're not even Jerry.

Now, think about it: Cream were loud, really loud. Cream were playing long songs with a lot of soloing and very few vocals. Although I like Jack Bruce's and Eric Clapton's singing, they weren't renowned as singers. They were packing the Fillmore and people were going nuts, and they were doing it by jamming as long as they wanted, playing difficult stuff at full volume. Suddenly, the quixotic enterprise of the Grateful Dead seemed--dare we say it--financially viable. The Dead could play the long, loud crazy music that appealed to them, and people would like it. They wouldn't have to damp it down for consumption. Garcia saw Cream--I'll bet the rest of the band did, too--and whole new worlds of music went from imagined to actual.
Thursday, August 24
I'm confident Garcia saw Cream this night. My only question would be whether it was his first time or his second. 

The only known photo from inside the Kings Beach Bowl in North Lake Tahoe. Neil Young, Richie Furay and Stephen Stills of Buffalo Springfield, on either August 18 or 19, 1967 (photo: Michelle McFee)

Friday and Saturday, August 25-26, 1967 Kings Beach Bowl, North Lake Tahoe, CA: Grateful Dead/The Creators
North Lake Tahoe, about 20 miles away from South Shore, was less crowded and hence had less activity. The North Shore had a Nevada side and a California side, and of course the Nevada side had gambling and was the preferred destination for adults. Thus the California side of North Shore was left to their teenage children. The North Lake Tahoe set considered themselves cooler than the South, and a rock venue had opened in North Lake Tahoe as well. 
Kings Beach Bowl, a converted bowling alley on North Lake Avenue, was opened in the Summer of 1967, but it was mostly only open on weekends. The sons of the owners had a band, and their dads created a place for them to play. Although the teenagers were not the bookers, they advised the booking agents on what was cool in Sacramento (where they were from) and San Francisco, so some very cool Fillmore bands played Kings Beach Bowl in 1967 and 1968, including Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead and Buffalo Springfield.
Kings Beach Bowl was just a converted bowling alley, and hardly a special building. Nonetheless, eyewitnesses recall it fondly. I only know of one photo of the inside, from when the Buffalo Springfield played on August 18-19, 1967. Most of the attendees were based in North Tahoe, but largely came from the Bay Area and Northern California, so they had heard of all the Fillmore groups. For many, it was the first chance to see these groups. The commercial area of North Lake Tahoe was so quiet and safe that parents had no problem allowing teenagers and their friends to go to shows on their own.
Kings Beach Bowl only presented shows on weekends, unlike the American Legion Hall, which was open 7 days a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day. In 1967, when it opened, Kings Beach only even began on June 15. The Grateful Dead would have been the last or next to last event presented that season (I still have not been able to determine if Kings Beach was open Labor Day). I believe that bands were housed in a nearby vacation home for the weekend. Lake Tahoe houses at the time were not opulent, but they were usually spacious and secluded, just the thing for a band who liked to travel with all their crew, girlfriends and families and engage in various extracurricular activities. Since one of the backers of Kings Beach Bowl worked for the Sheriff's department (Allen Goodall), there were not problems with the cops.  

The Grateful Dead would return to Kings Beach Bowl twice more. One of those weekends was held during Ski season, and the poster said "Trip Or Ski." That weekend (February 22-24, 1968) was recorded for Anthem Of The Sun, and the tapes were released as Dick's Picks Vol. 22.

Sunday, August 27
The Grateful Dead probably made a leisurely caravan back to San Francisco on Sunday. According to Mountain Girl, however, she, Jerry and her daughter had been staying in a little hotel. It makes sense that a "family unit" was given their own accomodations, even if the rest of the gang was having a mass slumber party in some vacation house.  According to Mountain Girl, they were expecting to have a nice weekend in Tahoe. I should add--as a Californian--that the Lake Tahoe area is so beautiful that just being there is relaxing, even if you don't actually do anything. No doubt Garcia figured he'd get a lot of guitar practice in, so he wouldn't lack for music.
Mountain Girl spoke about this week in Robert Greenfield's underrated Garcia oral history, Dark Star.  According to her, the hotel was tacky and awful and she couldn't stand it. So, amazingly, Garcia, MG and her daughter simply went camping. In those days in California, you could find a quiet wilderness area and camp out, because the state was less crowded and there weren't many rules (for good or ill). Garcia had apparently camped out regularly through his childhood and early Palo Alto days, because it was something he could afford. I have to think that this week was the last time Garcia slept under the stars. Thus, it seems that by Saturday night, Garcia and his family were in the forest in South Tahoe.
I like to think of them relaxing in the forest, Garcia practicing away for hours. Perhaps some hikers walked by, and thought "hey, that guy's a pretty good picker." Of course, Jerry might likely have been playing an unamplified electric guitar, but maybe he bought his acoustic, too. At the time, Lake Tahoe wasn't really built up, but it wasn't rural, either. The Garcias could have gone easily to a gas station or a restaurant when they needed to wash or get food, but they still would have spent most of their time in a pleasant outdoor forest. On Monday, however, Garcia (per MG) tossed everything in the car and they drove back to the Bay Area (thanks to LIA for sorting out the timeline here).
Cream finished their first week at the Fillmore as a huge sensation. 

Robert Hunter was probably in Denver. Somehow he had gotten pointed the wrong way, and spent a few days there.

Monday, August 28, 1967 Lindley Meadows, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA: Big Brother and The Holding Company/Grateful Dead "Party for Chocolate George"
After their return from Lake Tahoe, the Dead reappeared in San Francisco for the Monday afternoon funeral of a popular Hell's Angel known as Chocolate George. Big Brother and The Dead played a free concert at Lindley Meadows in Golden Gate Park, and a ceremonial funeral was held with George's casket (I do not know where he was actually buried).
The Grateful Dead had been booked at a rock festival on the Cabrillo College football field. The poster (published in the Art Of Rock) advertises a festival for Saturday and Sunday, September 2nd and 3rd, headlined by the Grateful Dead and Canned Heat, and supported by many local bands. The implication is that the Dead would play both days, although that is not certain. While there had been regular dances at the Cabrillo football field in the past, apparently the county got cold feet about a multi-act rock festival at a junior college. On August 29, the cancellation was announced in the paper, so the Dead must have found out Monday afternoon. For a working band, losing a weekend is Not Good, so I assume that Rock Scully and Danny Rifkin started working the phones.

The BGP poster for Cream, Electric Flag and Gary Burton at the Fillmore, August 29-September 3, 1967

Tuesday August 29
Cream began their second week at the Fillmore. Nominally, the headliners were Mike Bloomfield's new band, the Electric Flag. Bloomfield was already a star, and the Flag had debuted as Fillmore headliners just two weeks earlier (Aug 15-20). Nick Gravenites was the principal songwriter and lead singer. Drummer Buddy Miles also sang, and there was a big horn section. The Electric Flag had a lot of "hype" associated with them, and they were promoted as being a mixture of all kinds of American music--rock, jazz, blues and country. For all the promise, the Flag had an unsteady career, and their debut album would not be released until March 1968.
Duster, the 1967 debut album on RCA for the Gary Burton Quartet, including Larry Coryell and Steve Swallow (Bob Moses would replace Roy Haynes on drums for touring)

Also on the bill was the Gary Burton Quartet. Burton's band played jazz, but they did it on electric instruments, so it was called "jazz-rock." Burton played vibes, and the band didn't have a piano player. The amazing Larry Coryell was the guitarist, while the rhythm section had Steve Swallow on bass and Bob Moses on drums. The Quartet played quiet music, although they were amplified, so while they anticipated the Fusion music genre, they didn't sound like Bitches Brew. The band's current album was Duster, the first by the Quartet (although it was the 8th album for Burton himself). Playing places like the Fillmore was part of RCA's plan to expose the Burton Quartet to a younger, wider audience than just regular jazz listeners.
Robert Hunter was still hitchhiking, and I think this is the day he made it to Las Vegas with just a dime in his pocket (which, indeed, sounds like the lyrics to a Robert Hunter song). The story goes that he only had a dime, so he chose to play the slots. He won, and had enough money to get back to San Francisco. Hunter called the band--presumably the House phone at 710 Ashbury--and told them he was on his way. I assume he continued to hitchhike, but maybe he had won enough for a bus ticket.

Wednesday August 30
Some day during this week, Mickey Hart tried to go to a Grateful Dead rehearsal. He couldn't find the rehearsal hall, and he didn't (apparently) have a phone number for Kreutzmann. It is easy to forget that without cell phones and Google maps, directions and appointments were not at all a sure thing.
The subject of Grateful Dead rehearsal halls is murky (not that I haven't dived deeply into those waters), but I believe that the band was rehearsing at an empty synagogue at 1839 Geary Boulevard. 1839 Geary was right between two famous San Francisco buildings: the Fillmore Auditorium at 1805 Geary, and the Masonic Temple at 1859 that would become Jim Jones' People's Temple. In the 1970s, 1839 Geary became a concert venue, known at various times as House Of Good (1972), Theatre 1839 (1977) and Temple Beautiful (1979).

Garcia definitely saw Cream this week, although we don't know which nights. His comments above, about making Electric Flag and Gary Burton looking "old-fashioned" indicate that he went to at least one from the second run. Consider that Electric Flag was supposed to be the proverbial Next Big Thing, and that, comparatively speaking, the Gary Burton Quartet was extremely forward-looking. Yet when Garcia compared them to Cream, he dismissed them both.

Thursday, August 31
Somewhere near the end of this week, Robert Hunter turns up at the house of his friend Carl Moore. Back in 1965-66, Moore had lived on Channing Avenue, just up the street from Jerry Garcia, Rick Shubb and others. David Nelson and the New Delhi River Band had gotten together at the Channing house in the Summer of 1966. By Summer '67, the NDRB were popular in the South Bay, if not exactly successful. Moore, Nelson and Dave Torbert lived in a house on Euclid Avenue in East Palo Alto, which was also where the band rehearsed. The geography of East Palo Alto has changed dramatically, but old-time Palo Altans will know what I mean when I say that Euclid Avenue was near Whisky Gulch.

Also living in the Euclid Avenue house was Russell (Rusty) Towle, a few years younger than his housemates. Towle was one of my best sources on early Palo Alto days, and it was sad that he passed away too soon. Towle recalled Hunter arriving at the house and spending a few days there, looking very thin and not well, which fits Hunter's saga of hitchhiking for weeks with little to his name. So I have inferred that he probably arrived around Thursday, and that Phil Lesh picked him up and drove him to Rio Nido on Saturday or Sunday. 

There is an interesting dynamic here that has never really been commented on. Hunter was explicitly returning to the Bay Area to be the house songwriter for his best friend's psychedelic blues band, who needed help coming up with good original material. He spent a few days at the house of his other best friend, who also had a psychedelic blues band without any original material. Why didn't Hunter and Nelson agree to collaborate? Songwriters aren't like drummers--you can work for more than one band at a time. If the New Delhi River Band had accumulated some Robert Hunter songs at the end of 1967, they, too might have found a way to bring their bluesy sound to a wider audience. Yet neither Hunter or Nelson ever mentioned such a thing, although it is also true that no one asked.
In another context, however, Nelson has said he had no interest in actually writing songs until the mid-80s. Nelson did write the fine song "Crooked Judge" with Hunter in 1973, and the New Riders would have certainly benefited from new Hunter/Nelson songs. Ironically, the reconstituted 21st century New Riders were energized by some fine songs by that pair. How different would things have been if they had started in 1967? But it seems that Nelson saw himself as a performer, not a writer, and didn't sign up Hunter for any New Delhi River Band lyrics in the few days that he was at the NDRB house.

Friday, September 1
It's surprising that the Grateful Dead were not booked anywhere on the Friday of Labor Day weekend. It does mean another night when Garcia could have seen Cream, another reason I think he saw them more than once in the second week.

The poster for the canceled rock festival at the Cabrillo College JC football field in Santa Cruz County, scheduled for September 2-3, 1967

Saturday September 2
The Grateful Dead had been booked for the rock festival in Santa Cruz County on this weekend, possibly expecting to play both days. By the prior Tuesday, the festival had been canceled. That left the Dead with a hole in their schedule on Labor Day weekend, a time of the year when there are three nights without school, rather than two. We do know that the Dead played the Rio Nido Dance Hall, in Sonoma County, because we have an Owsley tape of some of the show. Owsley has been proven to be historically accurate on his dating, so we can have some confidence.
But what about Saturday night? It's very likely that every club or venue was booked. Cream was still headlining the Fillmore, so Graham didn't need any help with ticket sales there. The Steve Miller Band was at the Avalon all weekend, so Chet Helms didn't need the Dead either. I think Scully and Rifkin managed to drum up the Rio Nido gig at the last minute because it was the only venue not in use. It's also possible that the Dead got to Rio Nido Saturday night, maybe to play an undocumented gig, maybe just to jam in front of a few friends. Both of these scenarios would have had the same people there, frankly.
The story goes that Phil Lesh was sent to Palo Alto (in reality East Palo Alto) to retrieve Hunter. Why it was Phil and not Jerry has never been explained, either, but I am more curious about what Jerry might have been busy with than wondering why Phil went. Lesh drove Hunter to Rio Nido. I am thinking that all this took place on Saturday, and that the Dead were already set up there.  Also, even today, it is a 2-hour journey from East Palo Alto to Rio Nido, so I am thinking Phil went from San Francisco to Euclid Avenue, and then took Hunter to Rio Nido. This saga doesn't change if it all actually happened on Sunday.

Sunday, September 3, 1967 Dance Hall, Rio Nido, CA: Grateful Dead
Rio Nido, CA, a tiny unincorporated community in Sonoma County. There was a tiny dance hall, with room for a few hundred patrons, that dated back until at least the 1940s. It was an ideal spot for out-of-the-way activities where little scrutiny was desired, and the Grateful Dead had some good times there, before they simply outgrew the place.
There is a brief tape recorded by Owsley. Apparently, this was the only 1967 tape recorded by Mr Owsley, who was more focused on other activities that year. Phil Lesh used one song, "Midnight Hour" on his archival compilation album Fallout From The Phil Zone. In the liner notes, he says "This was recorded at a Russian River resort ballroom on Sunday night of Labor Day Weekend - I don't think there were more than 25 people there, but we played our little hearts out for them anyway." On a subsequent CD re-release of the band's debut album, "Viola Lee Blues" was added as filler.
Robert Hunter was present. We know from the tape that the band played "Alligator." So Hunter got to hear one of his lyrics made flesh by the Grateful Dead for the first time. 

Monday, September 4
There is a fragment of a tape dated September 4. Since there was no advertising, no flyer, no publicity and apparently very few people at the Sunday night show, we really have no idea if there were multiple shows planned. But it probably doesn't matter. The Rio Nido Dance Hall wasn't widely used--that's why it would have been free at the last moment on Labor Day weekend--so the Dead probably just jammed, because their equipment was already set up. A few people, probably friends, were also likely dancing and hanging out.

I think this day was the day that Hunter, the Grateful Dead's newly-onboarded songwriter, was listening to the band jam in the afternoon. He wasn't in the room with the band, but he could hear them outside. Garcia, and probably other band members, had spent the last two weeks hearing Eric Clapton and Cream upend rock music as it was known, playing challenging music to enthusiastic crowds. Bill Kreutzmann had met some guy who seemed to have something new to show him about rhythm. 

Hunter heard the first expansive, exploratory riffs of what would become a deeply familiar melody. Right there at Rio Nido, while the Grateful Dead jammed, he wrote the first verse to what would become "Dark Star."

Not a bad couple of weeks, really.

  • Cream played three weeknights at West Hollywood's Whisky-A-Go-Go (September 4-6).
  • Cream had been booked at the Crosstown Bus in a Boston suburb, but it had been shut down due to non-payment of bills (the J. Geils Band got their amps out just in time). A local coffee house proprietor converted a parking garage to open a venue he called the Psychedelic Supermarket just to book Cream for nine night (September 8-16). The supermarket was a notoriously unappealing joint, but it had great bands. The Dead would play there a few months later
  • Cream played two weeks at the Cafe Au Go Go in Greenwich Village (September 22-October 8), packing the place out, and everyone knew them by then. I don't think Cream learned new songs, but rather just jammed like they had at the Fillmore.
  • The American tour ended with five nights in Michigan (October 11-12 at the Fifth Dimension in Ann Arbor, and then October 13-15 at the Grande in Detroit). Disraeli Gears would come out in November, and when Cream returned to America in February 1968, they were huge.
Robert Hunter wrote the second verse of "Dark Star" in Golden Gate Park after a mysterious stranger gave him a joint. The stranger recommended the song title. Since we don't know who the stranger was, here's to hoping that it was the same guy who introduced Mickey and Billy. 
Hunter went on to write additional songs for the Grateful Dead and others, as well as for himself.

Mickey Hart joined the Grateful Dead. Phil Lesh mentions in his book that Kreutzmann went over to Hart Music in San Carlos, and made sure that Hart could come see the Dead play at the Straight Theater in San Francisco on September 30, and he did. Hart sat in that night, and joined the Grateful Dead a few weeks later.

The Grateful Dead continued to perform and record the songs of Robert Hunter and others until Jerry Garcia's death in 1995.

Appendix 1: Cream Audience Tape, September 3, 1967, Fillmore Auditorium
There is a Cream setlist from the Fillmore for Sunday, September 3, 1967. This must be based on the circulating audience tape. I do not know if this was the early set or the late set. There may have been some different songs throughout the booking, but Cream did not have that many songs at the time, so most nights were probably pretty similar to this.
Tales of Brave Ulysses
Sunshine of Your Love
Sweet Wine
Lawdy Mama
Sleepy Time Time
Steppin' Out

Appendix 2: Phil Elwood's San Francisco Examiner Review of the Count Basie Orchestra at the Fillmore Auditorium, August 21, 1967
Examiner music critic saw the Count Basie Orchestra and the Charles Lloyd Quartet at the Fillmore on Sunday, August 20, 1967. His review appeared in the Examiner on Monday, August 21. I have theorized above that Hart and Kreutzmann met on the next night (August 21), but it could have been this night. It is a thoughtful, interesting review in any case.