Friday, January 28, 2022

Halloween Weekend 1969: Loma Prieta Room, San Jose State and Family Dog on The Great Highway (Oct 31-Nov 2 '69) [FDGH V]


The Grateful Dead: Halloween Weekend, October 31-November 2, 1969
Over the years, it seemed like a Law Of Nature (or a Federal statute) that the Grateful Dead had to play on Halloween. Skeleton iconography attracts skeleton iconography, and a Dead concert on Halloween always seemed like a good idea. 

A close look at Halloween 1969 poses a paradox for the band. They were booked for the weekend at the Family Dog on The Great Highway, where they could draw 1500 or 2000 fans each night at $3.50 a head. Yet they only played the Dog on Saturday and Sunday, leaving the actual Friday night of Halloween for a campus event at San Jose State College. The newly-opened Student Union Ballroom held, at most, 700 people. Even if it was oversold, since student admission was only $2.00, the payday wasn't going to be the same as at the Dog.

What were the Grateful Dead and their management thinking? This post will take a look at the different threads in play for the Grateful Dead over the weekend of October 31-November 2, 1969.

Grateful Dead Economic Status Report, Fall 1969

In late 1969, the Grateful Dead were hurting for cash. They had spent so much money on Aoxomoxoa that they weren't earning anything back on royalties. Live/Dead would be a kind of success, but it wouldn't be released until November, so royalties wouldn't show up until later. The Dead, being the Dead, of course, were always spending too much money on equipment, and keeping a lot of friends and girlfriends on the payroll. This took cash, and the Dead didn't make that much.

Of course, the Dead's cash flow problem was greatly aggravated by the fact that manager Lenny Hart was absconding with a significant amount of the band's money. Hart's management "strategy" was dubious, at best, and in hindsight some of it may have been oriented towards bookings that facilitated Hart's greedy fingers, rather than the band's best interests.

The Family Dog on The Great Highway had a capacity of something around 1500 (the Fire Department capacity may have been a bit lower). Some contemporary comments in the Examiner suggest that a full house at the Dog approached 2000. Whether that meant they oversold the house, or people came and went throughout the night, it gives us an idea that the gate was about $6500 per night (assuming paid attendance of about 1850). Assuming costs for expenses, opening acts and profits, figure that the Dead could clear $4000 on a great night. 

The Student Union Ballroom at San Jose State held, at most, 700 patrons. Students would only pay $2.00, and they would have been the bulk of the audience. So even assuming a little bit of overselling and a few non-student admissions (at $3.00), and the possibility that a lot of students might come and go throughout the evening (allowing for more ticket sales), the realistic gate would be around $2000. The catch here was that San Jose State would have had an entertainment budget, and that ticket sales were meant to only defray the cost, not cover it. It's reasonable to assume that the Dead would have cleared $2500 or even $3000 for the Friday night show, which was still less than the Dog.

The difference in the two bookings was that San Jose State, though likely cheaper, was a sure thing. San Jose State was not going to go out of business. The Family Dog on the Great Highway, conversely, was always in a precarious financial situation. A band who booked a future show at the Dog had no guarantee the venue would be in business by that time. On top of that, rock concerts, like any live entertainment venture, were inherently risky ventures. The Grateful Dead, by what little evidence we have, had drawn well when they had played at the Family Dog for two weekends in August, and there was every reason to think they would do so again. 

There was one hangup, however: the Family Dog wouldn't be able to advertise the Dead show until that very week. Bill Graham Presents had booked the Dead with Jefferson Airplane for the prior weekend, and the contract would have required that the Dead could not advertise a show within 50 miles until their booking was complete. Now, it wasn't that Dead fans wouldn't want to see the band again--that was never a problem. It's just that concert attendance takes planning, and if you don't know there's a Dead concert on Halloween weekend, what if you've got something else going on? What if your sister already got the family car and you've got no way to get there?

Also, on any given night, anything could happen--rainstorm, earthquake, fire in the venue, riots in the neighborhood--that would lead to a financial debacle at the Dog. This risk was magnified by the prohibition on advertising until the previous Monday. Now, sure, the same things could happen at San Jose State. My guess, however, was that some part of the San Jose State concert booking was guaranteed, and that would be paid regardless, and very possibly paid in advance. The Dead were hurting for cash, and Lenny Hart was hungry for it, so a smaller, ensured payday on Halloween took precedence over a potentially larger one at the more uncertain Family Dog. So the Dog had a ghost of a show on Halloween without the Dead, and the Dead turned up for the balance of the weekend. Although non-musical details are scant, it seems that the Dead did well both nights at the Dog, so it was a financially sound weekend in the end.

Loma Prieta Room, Student Union, San Jose State University, 211 S 9th St San Jose, CA 95112
San Jose State College (now Cal State San Jose University) was the oldest college in California, first established as a Teacher's College in 1857. After various name changes, it became San Jose State College in 1935. After World War 2, thanks to the GI Bill and the Baby Boom, San Jose State expanded enormously. By 1969, it probably had 15,000 students or more (currently it has over 33,000, with 3/4 of them as undergraduates). The school is right at the center of downtown San Jose, which itself was expanding in the 1960s. The Student Union building at 211 9th Street had just been built in 1969. The main ballroom was on the third floor, and depending on the configuration, was either called the Ron Barrett Ballroom (capacity 588) or the Loma Prieta Room (capacity 700). The new ballroom had only opened on Tuesday, October 13, 1969. The very first rock concert at the Student Union Ballroom was held on the first Friday it was open. On October 17th, the New Riders of The Purple Sage played with a jazz-rock band called The Fourth Way.


The Daily Spartan of Thursday, October 16 reported on the upcoming dance the next night at the Student Union Ballroom

Two Bands To Appear For Dance
"Riders of the Purple Sage with special guest appearances by Jerry Garcia and Mickey Hart of the "Grateful Dead" will be one of the two bands playing tomorrow night in the new College Union on Ninth Street
A dance sponsored by the College Union Program Board will feature "Sage" and "The Fourth Way," with guest appearances by members of the Charles Lloyd Quartet and John Handy's group.
The dance will be held from 9 pm to 1 am in The BALLROOM on the third level of the College Union. Admission will be $1.50 for students and $2 for the general public. There will be no pre-sale; all tickets will be sold at the door.
By October 17th, the Grateful Dead would have already booked their Halloween show at the same venue. In this instance, besides booking a paying gig for the New Riders, it seems like the Dead were checking out the venue in advance. It was a very odd feature for the New Riders to headline a venue on a Friday night, and then for the Dead the same venue two weeks later. This suggests to me that the Dead booked the Halloween show, and then realized they could book another show two weeks earlier. 

The Fourth Way was an interesting electric jazz-rock band. There were a lot of bands in the Bay Area fusing rock, jazz and electricity, but Fourth Way did it in a less frantic style than Miles Davis or the Tony Williams Lifetime. Fourth Way did release three albums on Capitol, now long out-of-print. Bandleader Mike Nock, formerly pianist with Yusef Lateer, Steve Marcus and many others played electric keyboards. The lead soloist was electric violinist Mike White, best known for playing with the John Handy Quintet. Bassist Ron McClure had played with Handy, and then with a Charles Lloyd Quartet lineup when it was based in San Francisco (along with Keith Jarrett and Jack DeJohnette). Drummer Eddie Marshall rounded out the quartet.

We don't know what happened at this show. Was it well attended? Who knows? In the peculiar way of Dead history, however, while we don't have an eyewitness account, we have a tape. The Owsley Foundation was kind enough to transcribe the setlist for us. We can see that Bob Weir showed up for a few numbers, so there was a taste of Bobby Ace and The Cards Off The Bottom Of The Deck.
    Hello Trouble
    Long Black Limousine
    Six Days on the Road
    Next In Line
    Games People Play
    To Have the Hurting End
    Whatcha Gonna Do
    The Race Is On (w/Bob Weir)
    Cathy's Clown (w/Bob Weir)
    Saw Mill (w/Bob Weir)
    Mama Tried (w/Bob Weir)
    Me & My Uncle (w/Bob Weir)
    Fair Chance to Know

In any case, Owsley and the crew probably had a chance to figure a few things out about the room setup, and that had to help for Halloween.

October 31, 1969 Loma Prieta Room, San Jose State College, San Jose, CA: Grateful Dead/South Bay Experimental Flash (Friday)
We know the Grateful Dead played the Student Union Ballroom on Halloween, because we have a tape. It's around 90 minutes, and my guess is that it's the entire Grateful Dead performance.  We don't really know anything about the show itself.

There were two articles previewing the event in The Spartan Daily


This Friday evening SJS is having its own “trick-or-treat,” when it brings out The Grateful Dead to play in the College Union Ballroom.
The Grateful Dead, pioneers of the San Francisco sound, will be making their first appearance at SJS Halloween night.
“The Dead” have added a little country to their blues and psychedelic elements, and the blend works well, according to people who saw them last weekend at Winterland.
“The Dead,” whose music has what many people term a euphoric effect, will play two sets, a total of one and a half to two hours. It is hoped that they will play some of their more famous sets which range from straight country, as in “Mama Tried,” to the blues encore, “Good Morning Little School Girl.” In the former, bass guitarist Phil Lesch produces a good country vocal sound, and in the latter, Ron (Pig Pen) McKernan is at his vocal best. 
Lead guitarist Jerry Garcia also has a good set as does organist Tom Constante and rhythm guitarist Bob Weir. The dependable work of drummers William Kreutzman and Mickey Hart is ideal in the country tunes. 
Accompanying “The Dead” will be the far out sounds of the “Experimental Flash.” In addition, two color horror films will be shown, “Billy the Kid vs. Dracula” and “Godzilla vs. The Thing.” Both films will be shown silently behind the bands. 
The dance will be held from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. and admission is $2 for students and $3 for the public. Tickets are on sale in [the] Student Affairs Business Office, located on the second level of the College Union.

(by Marty Pastula, from the Spartan Daily, San Jose State College, 29 October 1969)

The Grateful Dead and Southbay Experimental Flash will perform at 9 p.m. tonight in the College Union to a masked audience.
In keeping with the theme of Halloween, the College Union Program Board (which is sponsoring the dance) has asked that all those attending tonight’s dance wear masks.
It is hoped that the debut of The Grateful Dead at SJS will be a pace-setter for future “name groups,” according to [the] CUPB student director.
The CUPB will provide masks for those who “forget their disguises.”
Tickets are still available in the Student Affairs Business office. [...]
[The] CUPB director added that in case it gets too warm, there will be “bobbing for apples” as refreshing but perhaps “ghostly” fun.

(from the Spartan Daily, 31 October 1969)

Casey Jones, Dire Wolf, It Hurts Me Too, Cryptical Envelopment-> Drums-> The Other One-> Cryptical Envelopment, China Cat Sunflower-> I Know You Rider, Mama Tried, High Time, Sitting On Top Of The World, Next Time You See Me-> Easy Wind, Turn On Your Love Light

South Bay Experimental Flash
The South Bay Experimental Flash were a jazz-rock quintet from San Jose, although by 1969 they actually lived in Richmond. The main soloist was flautist David Ladd, well known over later decades in the South Bay as a session man and music teacher, along with organist Harry Critchfield and drummer Kirk Harwood.

The Poster
There is a relatively well-known poster associated with the San Jose Halloween concert (at the top of the post). I am no poster expert, by any means, but it does raise a few questions:
  • Why was there a poster? This was a student show, subsidized by the college, and not intended to turn a profit. Why authorize a color poster, since it's a needless expense?
  • I can understand some hippies on the "Entertainment Committee" who wanted to commission a poster because it was cool. But why print it? Why print hundreds of copies at real cost? For one thing, even by 1969, any Fillmore or Fillmore-type poster accessible on a telephone pole was immediately removed and put up in someone's dorm room. So posters were not only a cost, they didn't help sell tickets.
  • I can see one poster for display outside the Student Union ticket office. But why print more? Do they circulate? Some part of this doesn't add up, although it may be that the posters were reprinted later because they were appealing.

Loma Prieta Room: Aftermath
The brave comment in the Spartan Daily about the Grateful Dead being the "pace-setter" for future name groups at the Loma Prieta Room turned out to be outrun by events. There were some more rock concerts at the Loma Prieta Room in Fall '69, the biggest name of which was Lee Michaels. Rapidly, however, the rock business got way bigger than any tiny 700-seat room on a campus, so while I'm sure there were occasional events, the Grateful Dead were far and away the biggest band ever to play the Student Union Ballroom.

The Loma Prieta Room was remodeled, and thus while the building is still in use, the Ballroom is not the same as when the Dead played there. During November 5-8, 2014, Cal State San Jose University held So Many Roads : The World in the Grateful Dead, A Conference & Symposium  in the Student Union building (though not the Loma Prieta Room, then under re-construction).

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.

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 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." 

October 31, 1969 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Danny Cox/Alan Watts/Golden Toad/Hells Angels Own Band (Friday)
The Family Dog had opened to great fanfare on June 13, 1969, but since then it had lurched through October with little to show for it. The venue had been open almost every night of the month, mostly with a variety of community-oriented events that only charged $1.00 admission on weeknights. While in retrospect we can see that some of the weekend acts would have been playing some good music (Kaleidoscope or Brewer And Shipley, for example), they weren't really good draws. The Dead were taking the sure payday in San Jose on Halloween, but they would be back at the Family Dog on Saturday and Sunday (November 1 and 2).

So for Halloween at the Family Dog, the putative headliner was the Golden Toad and folksinger Danny Cox, both of whom would be opening for the Dead on the subsequent nights. The unexplained billing was "Hells Angels Own Band." Who were they? What did it mean? We kind of know it wasn't the Dead, since they were playing in San Jose. I guess you could claim they were going to show up late, but geography doesn't favor that, and in any case, why invoke the Hells Angels? I wouldn't go to any public event today that advertised anything to do with the Hells Angels, and this was Halloween 1969. Also, the Hells Angels never took kindly to anyone using their name satirically, so the usage must have had some kind of informal approval. 

Was this a biker party? Maybe--but why advertise it to the public? Also, bikers are bikers--were they going to look forward to a Renaissance Fair quintet playing 15th century melodies on hand-built replicas of medieval pipes (which is what Golden Toad did)? Sure, Golden Toad founder Bob Thomas was a personal friend (and sometime roommate) of Owsley, but would a bunch of cranked-up bikers care? Danny Cox was an enjoyable folksinger, but he was a big African-American guy, and the Hells Angels were never an advertisement for diverse inclusion. 

Nothing about the Friday night booking made any sense. I have one tiny clue: I had a clever, but inaccurate, theory that Owsley Stanley had made a tape of Danny Cox that would become the album Danny Cox Live At The Family Dog. The Owsley Stanley Foundation looked into it, and it turned out that Cox's manager would not let Owsley tape his act. Family Dog soundman Lee Brenkman thinks that Cox was recorded on Halloween. Brenkman referred to the event as the "Hell's Angels Halloween party", and added that "it was the last calm thing that occurred that night." Intriguing. Anyone with insight, rumors or clever speculation, please post in the Comments.

November 1-2, 1969 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Danny Cox/Golden Toad (Saturday-Sunday)
The Grateful Dead headlined the Family Dog on The Great Highway on Saturday and Sunday night. Thanks to Owsley Stanley, we have tapes of both nights. The playing on both nights is magical. The existing tapes are both two hours, and seem to be complete shows with a few minor snips. So Golden Toad and Danny Cox must have each done sets, capped by a two-hour blast by the Grateful Dead in their early prime. David Browne, in his great Dead reflection,  So Many Roads, reviews the November 2 (Sunday) tape, with its 30-minute "Dark Star" in its larger context, and it is well worth reading (as is the rest of the book). Whatever the commercial flaws of the Family Dog on The Great Highway, and they seemed to be many, the Dead played fabulously there. In early 1970, manager Lenny Hart would make plans to merge the Grateful Dead's operations with Chet Helms and the Dog, and it had to be at least in part because the band played so well in the room.

The Golden Toad had nothing to do with rock, of course. But they resolutely followed their own musical course, in a manner clearly aligned with the Grateful Dead's own single-minded mission. The Toad mostly played outdoors in at Renaissance Fairs (in Los Angeles and Marin) or in Berkeley, and usually only played indoors at Berkeley's Freight and Salvage or with the Grateful Dead. The Golden Toad were known to have a rather flexible membership, so they may have had numerous people on stage augmenting the root quintet (supposedly they had performed with up to 23 members) [see here for more about the Golden Toad].

Danny Cox's 3rd album was Birth Announcement, a double-LP released on Together Records in 1969 and produced by Gary Usher

Danny Cox was from Cincinnati, but he had relocated to Kansas City in 1967. Cox, a large African-American man, defied rather shallow 60s expectations by singing folk music instead of blues. His current album was his 3rd, Birth Announcement, a double-lp on Together Records produced by Gary Usher. Cox sang folk classics along with Beatles and Dylan songs, lightly backed.

Cox shared management with Brewer And Shipley, and like them he would record an album for ABC/Dunhill in San Francisco with producer Nick Gravenites. Recorded at Wally Heider Studios, it was released in 1971. Both John Kahn and Merl Saunders played on that album. During demo sessions for the record in 1970, Kahn introduced Merl Saunders to Jerry Garcia, who was recording in another room. Some weeks later, when Howard Wales didn't want to come jam at the Matrix, Kahn recommended Merl and the Garcia/Saunders partnership began.

In between 1969 Birth Announcement and his 1971 ABC/Dunhill albums, Sunflower Records released a 1970 Danny Cox album called Live At The Family Dog. Sunflower, associated with MGM, was a fringe label that had released the legal-but-unauthorized Vintage Dead and Historic Dead albums in 1971. Danny Cox only played the Family Dog this weekend and the next weekend in 1969, so assuming that the material was really recorded at the Family Dog--that's no sure thing--they could very well have been recorded this weekend. I speculated that Owsley might have recorded the tape, but it turned out not to be the case. Cox's manager, Howard Wolf, wouldn't allow Owsley to tape his act. As mentioned, soundman Lee Brenkman thinks that Cox was recorded on Halloween. (Scholarly readers will be interested to know that on the Family Dog lp, Cox records "Me And My Uncle," and it is credited to "Trad.--arranged Danny Cox.") 


  • The Grateful Dead played a tiny ballroom for 700 or so people on a college campus on Halloween Friday in 1969.
  • What went down on Halloween '69 at the Family Dog? Why book a Renaissance Fair pipe band and a folksinger and advertise Hells Angels Own Band? What was that?
  • The Grateful Dead played Saturday and Sunday night at the Family Dog. They played great music, and ticket sales were probably pretty good, because they usually were.
  • Opening act Danny Cox may have had his Halloween show recorded and released on Sunflower Records as Live At The Family Dog