Friday, September 23, 2022

March 7, 1982 The Saddle Rack, San Jose, CA: Jerry Garcia Band KFAT Fat Fry (FM XIX)


Patrons at the Saddle Rack in San Jose, ca 2001

March 7, 1982 The Saddle Rack, San Jose, CA: Jerry Garcia Band KFAT Fat Fry (FM XIX)

Melvin Seals played organ in the Jerry Garcia Band from 1981 until 1995, playing with Garcia for several hundred shows.  Yet Seals was only on a Garcia radio broadcast a single time, on KFAT-fm from Gilroy, CA, recorded at an Urban Cowboy bar called The Saddle Rack, in San Jose. The entire time that Seals played with Garcia, both Garcia and the Grateful Dead became a greater and greater attraction. Yet Garcia radio broadcasts became a thing of the past, so Melvin only participated in that single one. In many ways, the early '82 period showed the Jerry Garcia Band at a crossroads, on the verge of separating itself from any normal part of the 20th century music industry. This post will examine how the Jerry Garcia Band not only came to play the Saddle Rack--a Silicon Valley joint that nonetheless had live, actual bulls in a stockade--but to see how it came to be broadcast on the radio.

Jerry Garcia Band: Status Report, 1982
In 1982, the Grateful Dead were not in a good financial way. Their concerts were still fairly lucrative, but they were carrying a lot of staff and had expensive gear, so profits were probably not high. Their record sales had cratered, too, so royalties were not adding to the bottom line. Songwriters would still be getting a little money, but with record sales down, their fortunes were not swelling. Also, by the early 1980s, none of the Grateful Dead or their extended family wanted to live commune style on an old ranch. They all wanted a somewhat middle class life in a house with their family members and a car that worked, so their expectations of what was a reasonable to receive as compensation would have been higher than it was a dozen years earlier. The Grateful Dead members, crew and staff were generally hurting for cash. 

The Jerry Garcia Band had gigged steadily throughout 1981, ending their year with a substantial Eastern tour in November. In late December, the Jerry Garcia Band had started recording at Club Front, and they would continue recording through February, in between some Grateful Dead shows. The JGB played just a few shows in early 1982, two at the Old Waldorf, two at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz, and five at the various Keystones (Berkeley, Palo Alto and The Stone). On Wednesday, March 3, the band had played an afternoon show at a tiny (300 capacity) room at San Francisco State. 

Unknown to most fans at the time (certainly unknown to me), "Jerry Garcia Band" was not just a name under which a band was booked, but a corporate partnership between Garcia, John Kahn and Ron Tutt, dating back to 1975. Originally the LLC had included pianist Nicky Hopkins, but he had been written out when he left the group at the end of '75. The Jerry Garcia Band had released one album, the poorly-received Cats Under The Stars on Arista. Tutt had stopped performing with the band before the album was even released, and I don't know whether this was directly related to the death of Tutt's other employer, Elvis Presley. Buzz Buchanan and then others had taken over the drum chair in the meantime.

The Fall '81 Jerry Garcia Band tour had stood out not least because Ron Tutt had returned to the band on drums. I can remember calling the Grateful Dead Hotline and hearing (I think) Steve Marcus announce the tour as "The Return of Ronnie Tutt." Drummer Daoud Shaw had left the band at the end of the Summer, Bill Kreutzmann had briefly filled in, and Tutt came on board for the big East Coast tour. When Garcia had returned to the stage, however, for three Keystone shows in December, 1981, I asked someone who went and he assured me that Kreutzmann had played drums. Did this mean Billy was just the filler for local gigs, or that Tutt was out of the band? In retrospect, it looks like Kreutzmann was just intended as a fill-in drummer for local gigs, but Tutt ultimately left the group without making any more live appearances with the Jerry Garcia Band.

Run For The Roses Sessions at Le Club Front

The Jerry Garcia Band still existed as a company, and it appears that Garcia and Kahn were bringing back Tutt in order to record. There were Club Front sessions intermittently between September 1981 and February 1982. Tutt played on the tracks that were released on Run For The Roses, but I don't know exactly when he was recording. Given that Bill Kreutzmann drummed for the Garcia Band in September and December 1981, its possible that Bill had some involvement in the sessions, but more likely in a rehearsal role.

The Run For The Roses album would not be released until Fall 1982, and the release was confusing to fans. We now know that while 5 of the tracks were recorded in 1981, two of them were 1974 outtakes from Compliments Of Garcia. That wasn't clear from the album credits, however, and to contemporary record buyers (like me) it had appeared that Merl Saunders had been invited to Garcia Band sessions, even though he hadn't played with Garcia since Reconstruction in 1979. It is difficult to explain how little information there was about the Jerry Garcia Band at the time. A few insiders may have known (or figured out) that Roses included two outtakes from the prior album, but it was largely unknown when the record came out.

Based on a Jake Feinberg interview with Melvin Seals from just a few years ago, it appears that Ron Tutt was surprised at what bad shape Garcia was in. Now, sure, Tutt was no innocent, and he had toured with Elvis, so he wasn't naive about the pressure on rock stars. Certainly the Garcia of 1975 through 1977 hadn't adhered to any kind of clean living. But Tutt was still surprised, and did not stick around. As far as I can tell, Tutt did perform on the October tour, and recorded the basic tracks (probably in 1981), but had left the band by the beginning of 1982. I assume that the release of Run For The Roses as a "Jerry Garcia Band" album was the vehicle for Tutt exiting the partnership with Garcia and Kahn. 

For the purposes of this post, however, it's important to remember that in the Spring of 1982, Garcia was still looking to make a viable proposition out of the Jerry Garcia Band as a recording and performing entity in line with the music industry orthodoxy of the time. The Garcia Band was recording an album for a major label, and was at least thinking about how they might present the album to the record-buying public.

Jerry Garcia FM Broadcasts
Live FM broadcasts were an essential part of the Grateful Dead's history, and their Fall 1971 tour was an integral component in making the band a long-lasting phenomenon. Most early 70s bands (or their management, anyway), wrung their hands in anxiety that any FM broadcast might create a bootleg LP. The Dead, while no fans of bootlegs, nonetheless benefited hugely from the bootleg phenomenon. For major market FM broadcasts, however, the critical component was a record company willing to compensate the radio station for lost advertising time. Warner Brothers had shown themselves willing to do that in 1971, and the Dead--and Deadheads--had been the beneficiaries.

The Jerry Garcia ensembles of the early 1970s did not have the backing of any major record company. Yet Garcia managed to play on the radio anyway, due to a combination of the unique conventions of Bay Area rock radio, and Garcia's own willingness to appear live on the air. KSAN-fm regularly broadcast live shows, mostly from local studios, and some other stations followed suit. So the Garcia-Saunders ensemble and Old And In The Way had appeared live somewhat regularly around the Bay Area, thanks to these practices.

Another Bay Area practice, probably somewhat related to KSAN's habits, was that local college stations also broadcast shows live. Stanford's station KZSU, for example, just had a 10-watt signal that could  only be heard on campus and in Palo Alto, but Garcia was willing to allow broadcasts on the station (not surprising, when you find out that Garcia had been broadcast live on KZSU since 1963). Old And In The Way also had some broadcasts on other local college stations, in a nod to the post-WW2 tradition of bluegrass bands. So even without record company backing, live Garcia was not without a presence of FM radio.

Once Garcia became a solo artist on Arista Records, the Jerry Garcia Band had a live FM broadcast in Washington DC on March 18, 1978. I assume that Arista supported this, even though the 1978 show was prior to the release of Cats Under The Stars. I think Clive Davis had a long enough view to see that Garcia's appeal was over a long period of time, so he made sure there was a broadcast.

KFAT-fm, 94.5 Gilroy, CA

The Jerry Garcia Band show from the Saddle Rack in San Jose was recorded on March 7, 1982, and broadcast on KFAT-fm, out of Gilroy, CA, as part of an ongoing series called The Fat Fry. The tale of KFAT is hard to imagine these days, and I can only sketch it out. Suffice to say, the KFAT Fat Fry appealed to fans in the range of KSAN and the Bay Area tradition of live rock broadcasts, and it was largely self-supporting. Thus a band did not require support from their record company. My guess is that the Garcia Band was offered a lucrative gig at the Saddle Rack, in return for allowing the show to be broadcast throughout San Jose and the South Bay. Unlike many acts, FM broadcasts were always fine with Garcia. It would have been a good paying show and broadcasting was normal for him. Who knew that it would be the last live broadcast of a Jerry Garcia Band show?

The Keystone Palo Alto broadcast a live show on KFAT every Monday night back in the late 70s and early 80s, as part of The Fat Fry. KFAT was a legendary psychedelic country station in then-tiny Gilroy, CA (pre-Cisco Systems), whose story is too bizarre to believe (read it and weep--radio was like this once, but only once). Every Monday night a local live attraction would play the Keystone Palo Alto and their first set would be broadcast on KFAT, audible all over the South Bay, and even in South Berkeley if you were lucky. To some extent, this was to advertise the bands themselves, and to some extent this was to promote the Keystone Palo Alto.

KFAT broadcast a quirky mix of country, blues, old-timey music, raunchy comedy, bluegrass, Hawaiian, and whatever struck the fancy of the disc jockey. It was on the air from mid-1975 to January 1983 at 94.5 FM. From high atop Mt. Loma Prieta (site of the famous 1989 earthquake) near San Jose, its signal reached to the edge San Francisco to south of Monterey and east to the Sierra Nevada mountains. Some of the original KFAT staff carries on the tradition (updated for the 21st Century) at KPIG in Freedom, CA (107-oink-5 fm). KFAT wasn't really audible in San Francisco, and reception was sketchy in South Berkeley (and non-existent further North). So the real audience was the greater San Jose, Santa Cruz and Monterey areas, back before the area was dominated by well-off Silicon Valley suburbs. It wasn't exactly rural--although there were some farms and ranches--but it wasn't really suburban either. 

On December 5, 1977, the headliner for the second-ever Monday Fat Fry had been Robert Hunter and Comfort. They brought along Bob Matthews and Betty Cantor (Hunter name-checked them from the stage) to ensure a great sound. They performed a complete version of Hunter's "Alligator Moon" suite. Since Hunter never allowed the Comfort version of the suite to be released, the live Fat Fry version remains the definitive recording. As at any Fat Fry from that era, the first set was broadcast, and Hunter encourages the listening audience to come down to Keystone Palo Alto for the second set. So the Dead family, if not actually Garcia, was familiar with the Fat Fry, and must have been positively disposed.

A promotional belt buckle for KEEN, San Jose (1370am). "Country Music 24 Hours A Day"

San Jose and The San Jose Country Music Scene

San Jose had initially been a medium-sized California city, but in the 1960s it underwent explosive growth. At a time when San Francisco's population growth was capped by geographic limitations, the flat plain of the Santa Clara Valley was custom-made for suburbs. San Jose boomed, and the suburban cities around it (Santa Clara, Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Campbell and others) expanded as well. Given that the city was full of teenagers, its no surprise that San Jose had a thriving rock scene in the 1960s, even if much of it was somewhat self-contained. Certainly the Grateful Dead and all the other San Francisco bands regularly played outdoor and indoor shows in San Jose, because it was too lucrative not to

Comparative Population (Census Data)
Census    San Francisco    San Jose
1960        740,316             204,196
1970        715,674             459,913
1980        678,974             629,400
1990        723,959             782,248
2019        881,547            1,019,995
Come the 1970s, however, while San Jose was bigger than ever, the rock market had regionalized. Rock promotions were focused on San Francisco and Berkeley, mostly at shows promoted by Bill Graham Presents. Rock fans from San Jose or the nearby suburbs had to expect to get in their cars (or their parents' cars) and drive to Winterland, Berkeley Community Theater or Oakland Coliseum to see big rock shows. There were a few venues in San Jose, but there weren't that many memorable rock shows. 

As far as the 1970s went, Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead had each played a show at the San Jose Civic Auditorium in 1972, the Jerry Garcia Band had played Cupertino in 1975 and the Grateful Dead had played the San Jose State football stadium in 1979, but that was about it. Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead had played Palo Alto and Stanford in the 70s, so San Jose Deadheads had some opportunities, but Palo Alto wasn't San Jose, and everybody knew it.

By 1982, San Jose was not only booming, it was getting wealthy. The early harvests of microprocessors had made Silicon Valley increasingly prosperous. It is a long-forgotten fact that the original coinage of "Silicon Valley" was a play on the Santa Clara Valley. The Santa Clara Valley had been a prosperous agricultural area since the mid-19th century, and up through the 1960s, San Jose had basically been a farm town. All of the farms and ranches throughout the greater South Bay bought their feed and tractors in San Jose. The Bay Area's biggest country radio station was KEEN-1370-AM, out of San Jose. When Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia talk about hearing country music on the radio growing up, they were talking about KEEN. As far as the Bay Area was concerned, San Jose was a farm town, and a big city like San Francisco or a college town like Palo Alto was always going to look down on San Jose. San Jose got no cultural respect from anywhere else in the Bay Area, and once rock music became "Art," that was true of rock as well. 

Don Cox, owner of Cowtown in San Jose, had a local hit with "Crazy Gringo" in 1976

As it happened, however, and not surprisingly, San Jose was the heartbeat of a thriving country music scene since at least World War 2. Not only was there KEEN, but there were numerous venues and bars for country and honky tonk music. This was true well into the 1970s. Among the biggest country music venues in San Jose was Cowtown, at 1584 Almaden, opened in the late 1950s by local country singer Don Cox. Cowtown had a house band, playing music for dancing and sometimes backing visiting country stars. Cowtown was open on Almaden up through the early 80s, and when it closed Cox re-branded his other joint, Sam's Club (over on Monterey Road), as Cowtown, and the successor stayed open until 1988.

In fact, there were a few Grateful Dead connections to Cowtown. In the early 1970s, one of the regular pedal steel guitarists in the house band was Bobby Black. The story goes that Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen heard Black--they may have been booked at Cowtown--and were so impressed that they ended up hiring him in 1972. In 1978, Black would spend a year in the New Riders of The Purple Sage, after Buddy Cage quit (and before Cage returned). Black was a fine steel player, with a more pronounced Western Swing style than Cage. It was Black on pedal steel with the Riders when they opened for the Grateful Dead on the night Winterland closed, New Year's Eve 1978.

A more intriguing Cowtown connection, however, involved Garcia's old pal Peter Grant. According to Grant, back in '64 or so, when Grant and Garcia were in the Black Mountain Boys together (Grant on dobro, Garcia on banjo), they were driving around in Garcia's Corvair when they hear Buck Owens' new hit "Together Again," with the great pedal steel ride by the Buckaroos' Tom Brumley. Both Grant and Garcia agreed on the spot that they each had to learn pedal steel. Although Garcia had bought a Fender pedal steel in 1967, he sold it because he couldn't keep it in tune, so Grant had learned the instrument first. It was Grant that played pedal steel on "Rosemary" on Aoxomoxoa

By April 1969, however, Garcia had bought a Zane Beck Double-Ten (ZB10) pedal steel at Guitar City in Lakewood, CO. He had started to play it with John Dawson, then the Grateful Dead and then the New Riders. He also played some sessions on some rock albums, including the Jefferson Airplane's Volunteers and "Teach Your Children" by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. By 1970, the New Riders were turning into a serious enterprise, and for his own Garcia-reasons, Jerry bought a new Emmons DB 10. So--being Jerry--he called up Grant and asked him if he wanted his earlier one. Grant owned a pedal steel guitar, but it wasn't nearly as good as the ZB10 that Garcia was moving on from, so he gladly said yes.

Peter Grant and Jerry Garcia's old ZB10 Pedal Steel Guitar at Cowtown in San Jose, ca 1974

By the mid-70s, Peter Grant was a regular member of the house band at Cowtown. Grant was a full-time musician, and though he went on tour once in a while (with Hoyt Axton, for example), he lived in San Jose and his main gig was Cowtown. And so it came to pass that Jerry Garcia's legendary ZB10 was live at 1584 Almaden Avenue in San Jose at a honky tonk bar many nights of the week in the mid-70s, just as it was intended. Garcia never played Cowtown, but his steel guitar was regularly in the house. 

The Saddle Rack opened on August 13, 1976, at Lincoln and Auzerais Avenues, near downtown. Unexpected as it may have seemed, in the heart of early Silicon Valley, it was a savvy move to open a Cowboy bar in urban San Jose. True, San Jose had not really been a Feed And Seed hub for some years, and many of the former orchards in San Jose were now housing developments. Thanks to San Jose's inferiority complex towards Palo Alto and San Francisco, however, the city was an attractive place to live for the kind of guy who worked in a factory and liked Merle Haggard. 

It's largely forgotten now that the first wave of Silicon Valley, from the early 60s onward, was oriented towards manufacturing. There were a lot of factories, and the men and women who worked there didn't have advanced degrees from Stanford. When that bell rang at 5:00pm, they wanted a cold one, dim lights, thick smoke and loud, loud music. The Saddle Rack hit the mark, and was an instant hit. The 1980 Urban Cowboy movie, with John Travolta, captured this dynamic in Texas a few years later, but it was already in full force at the Saddle Rack.

According to a 2001 Fare-Thee-Well retrospective of the Saddle Rack in the San Jose Metro, Travolta's Urban Cowboy movie supercharged the atmosphere at the Rack. The club's manager said "At the time the movie came out, it moved from a little country bar into a massive, and I mean massive, country bar." The Saddle Rack had a mechanical bull, and for a year or two, they even had some real ones. Yes--it's possible that the Jerry Garcia Band played a live concert in a room with real actual bulls:

[owner Hank] Guenther turned up the cowboy mystique when he incorporated a bull pen--yes, live bulls--in the back corner, where the dance floor closest to the bathroom now stands, around 1982. The story sounds familiar. On a busy Thursday night [in 2001], Patty Gergel, 22 and a recent graduate of San Jose State University, tells her group of friends that she heard a rumor about the bulls. 
"They got loose and started running on 280," she tells her sorority sisters.
"Shut up!" one of them screams.
"It ran on Meridian [Avenue], not 280," says [manager Andy] Buchanan, clarifying the rumor later that night. 
Was it all the bulls?
"Just one. It jumped over a 10-foot fence. That was amazing to see. An 1,800-pound bull jumping the fence."
An automobile traveling on Meridian hit the bull and ended its spree of freedom. The bull arena didn't last much longer and in 1984, after their insurance company said they wouldn't cover it, Guenther shut it down. These days, the mechanical bull is one of the largest draws, with many just-turned-21, it's-my-birthday gonzos tanked on liquid courage lining up for a crack at it. (Wednesday bull riders pay $1; Thursday is free and Fridays and Saturdays is $2.)

More importantly for our story, however, was that the Saddle Rack became a live venue. San Jose had no nightclubs booking original music at the time (notwithstanding The Bodega in the nearby suburb of Campbell), at least not on any level beyond local bands. Somewhere around 1981, the Saddle Rack took over from the Keystone Palo Alto as the sponsor of the Fat Fry. In 1981, the Saddle Rack was a big, booming operation and the financial arrangement was probably better for the bands. In any case, San Jose was right in the center of KFAT's audience, even if Palo Alto had a bigger irony quotient. More from the Metro:

Beginning in 1981, the Saddle Rack hosted live shows and concerts featuring singers and rockers--heavy metal and country--on the way up and on the way down, Buchanan says. Over the years, they've booked such acts as James Brown, B.B. King, Garth Brooks, Huey Lewis, Roy Orbison, the Charlie Daniels Band, Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, Martina McBride and an all-star roster of other bands and singers. And it's not all Texas-style bragging. Inside Guenther's office, just like in the movie where Wes attempts to rob Gilley's (which inspired Guenther's Rack), wood-framed photos of celebrity singers line the faux wood-paneled walls.

Recap: The Jerry Garcia Band at The Saddle Rack, San Jose, CA March 7, 1982
The Jerry Garcia Band played an Urban Cowboy bar, perhaps for the only time. There was a mechanical bull in the house, and just maybe a couple of real ones. It was perhaps Garcia's only direct nod to the country tradition in San Jose, even if Jerry himself hardly thought about it. Garcia had played a fair amount in San Jose in the 60s, but despite the increasing size and importance of the city in subsequent decades, it remained outside the Garcia and Grateful Dead orbit (save for a Jerry Garcia Band show at the Events Center in San Jose State University on April 25, 1992, capacity 7400).

The Saddle Rack show was the last Jerry Garcia Band live broadcast, and I believe his last non-Grateful Dead live broadcast of any kind. I taped it myself, in my Berkeley apartment. I was thrilled to get some current Garcia on my cassette deck, of course, but it never occurred to me that it would be the very last one. No doubt, Garcia rocked the house, and everyone was dancing--I wonder if there was any line dancing? It is a latterday Garcia irony that in contrast to most touring bands at the time, Garcia's manager would have been more concerned about the payday for the show--no doubt pretty darn good--and unconcerned about the virtues or defects of performing live on the radio. Garcia, with and without the Dead, had appeared so many times on air by 1982 that he would have had no reservations, and rightly so.

One indeterminate question is whether the show was broadcast live or tape-delayed. KFAT Fat Frys were always on Monday, and March 7, 1982 was a Sunday night. I do know that while the Keystone Palo Alto Fat Fry was always live--artists always encouraged listeners to come on down for the late set--at least some Saddle Rack shows were taped. According to one internet posting, at least once the Saddle Rack had multiple bands that were then broadcast on successive Monday nights over the next few weeks. I myself taped the Garcia Band show, but I no longer recall if it was broadcast or tape-delayed to the next night. I also no longer recall if they only broadcast one set. My guess is that they probably just blasted out one set, since I think I would have recalled an all-night Fat Fry (I long since gave up my original cassette to the four winds).

And as for the Jerry Garcia Band in 1982, its future arcs were unexpected in any number of ways. Run For The Roses was released by Arista in November, 1982, to very little fanfare. Only the title track passed into the regular JGB repertoire, with the rest of the new material fading into obscurity. The covers were unmemorable, including a needless "Knocking On Heaven's Door." Presumably Ron Tutt opted out (or was bought out) of any partnership, and the Jerry Garcia Band would not release any material until a live double cd in 1991. The Jerry Garcia Band retreated into the silo of Grateful Dead fandom, and disassociated itself from the rest of the music industry in almost every way. 

Yet, remarkably, the Jerry Garcia Band thrived against all odds. It wasn't just that the Grateful Dead became huge, massively huge, far beyond the dreams of even the most devoted Deadhead. It was also that, in some strange way, the Jerry Garcia Band was a contrast of sorts to the Dead themselves. Given, of course, the inevitable effect of "The Garcia," the Jerry Garcia Band strove to minimize the trappings of a Grateful Dead concert. The pacing and song choices at JGB shows minimized the raucous drama of Dead shows, and Garcia's own choices de-emphasized his most famous songs. For many years, the Garcia Band never did an encore (before caving in to the inevitable). As a result, many aging Deadheads, myself included, stuck with the Garcia Band long after going emeritus on the full circus of the Grateful Dead themselves. Thus, the Jerry Garcia Band developed into a massive concert attraction, outside the scope of the music industry at the time.

The condominium development at the former site of The Saddle Rack uses the old club as its street name (above: 1390 Saddle Rack St, San Jose, CA)

The Saddle Rack in San Jose closed on August 5, 2001. The site is now a high-density condominium unit. The condo is now located on Saddle Rack Street, which did not exist when the club was there. The club moved to 42011 Boscell Road in Fremont, across the Bay. It continued to thrive for many years, but finally went out to pasture amidst many other closures in May, 2020. 

Two big questions remain about the Jerry Garcia Band's last live broadcast on March 7, 1982 at the Saddle Rack:

  • Was the show broadcast live on Sunday night, or delayed until March 8 (Monday)?, and
  • Were there live bulls in the house while Garcia played!

Anyone who knows, or thinks they know someone who knows, or has something interesting to say anyway, please suggest it in the Comments

Appendix: Setlist from The Saddle Rack, San Jose, March 7, 1982
I: Sugaree, Catfish John, Valerie, Second That Emotion, Tangled Up In Blue
II: The Harder They Come, Mystery Train, Knockin' On Heaven's Door, Tore Up Over You, Midnight Moonlight

Note: while it is suggested in JerryBase that Dave Torbert played bass this night, no evidence seems to support this claim (unfortunately). Torbert did sit in for the first set in Chico just 10 days later, as John Khan was delayed by fog.