Thursday, August 4, 2016

June 26, 1981 Fox-Warfield Theatre, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia Band with Phil Lesh/High Noon/Mike Henderson (The Truth Is Out There)

Jerry Garcia has a remarkably well-documented musical history, both as part of and separate from the Grateful Dead. Yet there is so much available information to process about Garcia that some well-known facts remain unexamined. A closer look at such events opens the door to many interesting interpretations, but the paucity of explanations by any of the principals makes that door very difficult to walk through. One such event was the Jerry Garcia Band performance at the Fox-Warfield Theatre in San Francisco on Saturday, June 26, 1981, which included the advertised appearance of Phil Lesh on bass in place of John Kahn. The show was well attended, if not quite sold out, audience tapes circulate and a portion of it was officially released as an official "download-only" Pure Jerry selection--if only for a week--, so the event was well-documented.

The event was clearly important for the Garcia Band. The group almost never played concerts in San Francisco, yet made an exception for this one night. There had been a show the night before in Santa Cruz, also with Phil Lesh, and as it turned out, a stealth warm-up show in Salinas the night before that (Sherwood Hall, Thursday, June 24). To the surprise of fans, the JGB introduced two female backup singers, hearkening back to the Maria Muldaur and Donna Godchaux era of the band. While they made this debut with the planned participation of Phil Lesh, for subsequent shows John Kahn returned to his familiar role as bassist and straw boss. No explanation has ever been given for why the biggest Garcia show in San Francisco in the first half of the 80s was without Kahn. This post will attempt to determine some possible explanations for this turn of events.

The Jerry Garcia Band had released Cats Under The Stars in 1978, on Arista Records, but it had not been successful

The Jerry Garcia Band, 1981
By 1981, the Grateful Dead were a venerable Bay Area institution. In rock and roll, that wasn't necessarily seen as a positive. To many rock fans, the Dead were decades old, with some of the members nearing forty years old. Even grownup rock fans would shrug and say, well, I saw them a while ago and it was fun, but it's just old hippie stuff. The Dead still regularly sold out multi-night runs at the Oakland Auditorium, and they had sold out a remarkable 15-night run at the Fox-Warfield in the Fall of 1980, but they didn't seem to be getting any bigger. Given their vintage, it was mainly remarkable that they weren't getting any smaller.

Jerry Garcia had a sort of special status. He had been an iconic rock star and public figure in the Bay Area since 1966, and he stood for a lot of hippie values, which, as previously noted, was not at all any kind of universal positive. However, a lot of rock stars lived in the Bay Area, not just home-grown products like the Dead and the Airplane, but transplants like Van Morrison or David Crosby. In general, San Franciscans take great pride in their casual attitude towards legends in their midst, because San Franciscans see that as the proper attitude for a world-class city, and that is how they see their home. Thus while Jerry Garcia, the individual, was likely to get bugged by Deadheads, the general population was not so impressed that a rock star regularly played local joints, as for that matter, so did Van Morrison and Robin Williams. San Francisco fans were proud of that, but it wasn't a big deal. Thus, in comparison to the East Coast, the Jerry Garcia Band was a relatively modest attraction in the Bay Area, performing profitably but without fanfare.

In the early 1980s, Bay Area Jerry Garcia Band shows were never reviewed in local papers. There was no news about the band. Since the Grateful Dead Hotline or the Sunday display ads for the Keystones told Garcia fans what they needed to know about upcoming shows, there were never radio ads or other promotional strategies that attracted attention to the band. The normal cycle of the record company publicizing artist performances to attract attention in order to increase record sales had no bearing on the Jerry Garcia Band universe. The JGB had made one poorly received album (Cats Under The Stars) and had seemed to drop out of the record industry. Only Deadheads, and not all of them, knew what the Garcia Band was up to. Even that sort of information was pretty thin. Garcia and Kahn had added two new keyboard players and changed drummers in early 1981, and it was months before I could even find out the names of the new guys.

For most Bay Area rock fans, the principal source of rock concert information was the Sunday Chronicle Datebook insert, known as "The Pink Section," since it was published on pink newsprint. The first edition of the Sunday paper was available around Friday at midnight, and you could read all the ads that said "on sale Today!," which meant Sunday (36 hours hence), since The Pink Section had a print deadline of Tuesday. As I recall, BASS tickets had a regular ad, separate from the Bill Graham Presents ad, and it listed forthcoming shows. One Sunday, probably in late May, amongst listings for numerous shows that were "on sale today [i.e Sunday]" were two shows featuring The Jerry Garcia Band with Phil Lesh. The Thursday night show was June 25 at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, and the Friday night show was June 26 at the Fox-Warfield. For the likes of me, there was no hesitation, but it left open the question of what this ad might imply.
Although the Grateful Dead were bigger than ever by 1981, the Jerry Garcia Band continued to play club shows at Keystone Berkeley, Keystone Palo Alto and The Stone in San Francisco (the calendar is from February 1980)

State Of Play: Bill Graham, The Keystones and Jerry Garcia
I have discussed at length Jerry Garcia's long history with the Keystone Berkeley and its two sister clubs, Keystone Palo Alto and The Stone, so I will only emphasize a few highlights here. Jerry Garcia had started playing for Freddie Herrera at the Keystone Korner in San Francisco back in 1971. Herrera fully moved over to the Keystone Berkeley by 1972, and all of Garcia's side aggregations had played there regularly. Herrera's partner Bobby Corona opened the Keystone Palo Alto in 1977, and The Stone, on Broadway in San Francisco, in 1979. Garcia played all three clubs regularly. By the time all three clubs had closed by the end of the 1980s, Garcia had played over 400 shows for the Keystones.

Garcia's commitment to the Keystones was not some casual choice. Bill Graham was the dominant promoter in the Bay Area, and critical to the Grateful Dead's financial well-being, yet Garcia chose to work regularly with Graham's competitor. More importantly, Garcia did not play other venues in Berkeley, Palo Alto or San Francisco, since there were Keystones in those cities. Where there were no Keystones, in places like Santa Cruz or Marin, the Jerry Garcia Band would play for other promoters, including Bill Graham. There were very occasional exceptions to this pattern, but they all but exclusively were benefit concerts. Bill Graham clearly would have wanted to produce Jerry Garcia Band concerts in Berkeley, San Francisco or the Palo Alto area, but Garcia stuck to Herrera and Corona.

Thus it was surprising indeed to see the Jerry Garcia Band booked for a weekend of concerts by Bill Graham Presents. In particular, it was unprecedented for Garcia to play the Fox-Warfield, rather than a couple of nights at the various Keystones. The Santa Cruz booking was less surprising, as the JGB had played for Graham at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium back in 1978 (on Feb 19 '78, along with Robert Hunter and Comfort). However, since that time Garcia had started to play shows at The Catalyst in Santa Cruz. The Catalyst story is a sub-plot I have not yet addressed, but suffice to say here was BGP booking the Garcia Band for two shows in cities where Garcia had an existing booking relationship with local clubs. To top it off, there was the unprecedented detail that Phil Lesh would be in the band.
Reputedly, John Kahn drove a black BMW in the 1980s (this is a 1981 BMW 320i)
Where Was John Kahn?
Over the next few weeks, there was no other announcement or press coverage of the Garcia Band shows, nor any explanation of the presence of Phil Lesh. You have to understand, there wasn't ever any coverage, but it added to the air of mystery. Of course my friends and I got tickets for the Fox-Warfield show. It was going to be on a Saturday night, with reserved seats, and Warfield shows never ran as late as Keystone Berkeley, so it was very appealing, and the few extra dollars for the tickets seemed well worth it. Yet we couldn't help but speculate about Kahn and Phil. There seemed to be a couple of possibilities:

John Kahn was on tour with someone else
Deadheads, nor anyone else, knew almost nothing about John Kahn. He was never interviewed, and we knew nothing of his musical background, save that he had recorded on a lot of albums made in the Bay Area. On the other other hand, we did know that Maria Muldaur was Kahn's girlfriend, or at least had been in the 1970s. So it wasn't impossible to imagine that Kahn was on tour with Maria or someone else, and that Lesh would be standing in. However, if Kahn had another tour, or had joined a new band, that was sort of news, and I would have expected to read about it in (Blair Jackson-edited) BAM or Joel Selvin's column in the Pink Section. There was no news about Kahn, so it didn't seem likely that he had another gig.
John Kahn was out of the band
Maybe John Kahn had just left the Garcia Band? Knowing what we know now, of course, we realize how unlikely that would have been. But we knew none of that at the time. From a Deadhead perspective, drummers came and went, Merl Saunders had left, returned (in Reconstruction) and had left again (from our point of view), so Kahn leaving wasn't unthinkable.
Phil Lesh wanted to get out and play
By now, we've read Phil's autobiography and know that he was never that into playing with more than one band, but we knew no such thing then. Garcia had been a regular performer in the Bay Area since 1970, Bob Weir since 1974, and appearances by Hart and Kreutzmann were not unknown. Phil had made a very few, unheralded appearances with a Marin pick-up band called Too Loose To Truck in 1975 and '76, but had largely remained at home. Still, in February of 1981, he had played with Hart and Kretuzmann as part of The Rhythm Devils, promoting the Apocalypse Now soundtrack sessions. So maybe Phil wanted to play out a little bit. 
On top of that, the opening act for both shows was Mickey Hart's band High Noon, featuring Norton Buffalo and Merl Saunders. The group had debuted at the Fox-Warfield on May 22 '81, opening for an acoustic Grateful Dead benefit performance (where John Kahn had played bass instead of Phil Lesh), and was starting to be booked around Bay Area clubs. Thus a booking with not just Garcia and Hart's bands, but Phil Lesh as well, made some commercial sense.
None of these things turned out to be true. Kahn wasn't on tour with anyone else, he would never leave the Garcia Band and Lesh was no more than an emergency fill-in. So what was the emergency? Where was Kahn? How did Jerry Garcia and Bill Graham know that John Kahn would not be available 30 to 60 days before the show was booked, and yet that he would return from his unexplained absence? Kahn would play bass for every Garcia Band date save two until Jerry's death in 1995. Where was he?

Since no one has answered this question in 35 years--I admit no one has asked it, either--I will present my theory. I should point out in advance that I have no special information, and this is just inductive reasoning on my part. Anyone with additional information, or even just a choogly feeling, should address my hypothesis in the Comments.

I think John Kahn had a 30-day jail term for a probation violation, probably related to a DUI. I think the shows had been booked within the usual 60 to 90 day window, and that Kahn figured any penalties for an existing violation would be continued or delayed, but he or his attorneys had miscalculated. Unlike Keystone Berkeley shows, actual BGP concerts could not be canceled so easily. Thus Phil Lesh was drafted as a substitute, which probably suited Bill Graham just fine, and in enough time to even advertise it. Yet after the shows, Kahn simply returned to the Garcia Band.

If Kahn had had a medical issue, a pending operation for example, there would not likely have been a two-month wait for any procedure. While any legal issue could have prevented his appearance, the odd scheduling suggests some series of pending appeals that would have caused the shows to be booked with the reasonable hope that Kahn would be available. One odd characteristic of the Keystone-era Garcia Band was that all the band members drove themselves to the shows, Kahn and Garcia included. This is far less of a big deal than it sounds--both the Keystone Berkeley and The Stone were no more than an hour from San Rafael or other typical Marin points, and easy freeway driving at that. Neither Garcia nor Kahn (to my knowledge) had a significant history of dangerous driving or accidents (looking at you, Jeff Beck). However, if Kahn had been stopped for some reason, it's not hard to suspect that a policeman might not find reason to think JK had been "under the influence." Since the Jerry Garcia Band never received any press coverage, it would have been easy to keep it out of the papers.

When the Jerry Garcia Band first formed in Fall 1975, drummer Ron Tutt was an equal member, along with Garcia, John Kahn and pianist Nicky Hopkins

The Return Of Ronnie Tutt
As I recall, while I was contemplating the mysteries of Phil Lesh's substitution for John Kahn, additional JGB shows were advertised for the Keystones, with no mention of Phil (July 23 at The Stone, July 24 at Keystone Palo Alto and July 26 at Keystone Berkeley). This eliminated some of the hypothetical possibilities, but it provided no real answers. In retrospect, three facts stand out:
  • The Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia were not in good financial circumstances, and the idea of canceling or delaying two profitable Garcia Band shows was not a good option
  • It turned out that the weekend of Garcia Band concerts was debuting Garcia's vision of the next Garcia Band. That vision would be enacted for the remaining 14 years of the Garcia Band's existence, but the peculiar circumstances of the JGB concerts meant that the subject was never mentioned again
  • The key to the planned future of the Jerry Garcia Band was the impending return of the great Ron Tutt on drums
My hypothesis about the 1981 Jerry Garcia Band was that the entire year was organized around the planned return of Ron Tutt to the band. This included recording a new album and a National tour. Starting around September of 1981, Ron Tutt returned to the drum chair of the Jerry Garcia Band, rehearsing and recording with the band at Club Front. The national tour was announced on the Grateful Dead Hotline in October, where GDTS manager Steve Marcus announced "the return of Ronnie Tutt" for the upcoming Garcia Band tour. Comments about Garcia Band members were all but unheard of on the Hotline, so there was no doubt that this was no small thing.

Most Garcia fans know that Ron Tutt was the original drummer for the Jerry Garcia Band when it was founded in the Fall of 1975. However, unlike some previous iterations of Garcia's bar band, the 1975 Jerry Garcia Band was a partnership between Garcia, John Kahn, Nicky Hopkins and Tutt. Obviously, Hopkins was no longer a partner after 1975, and I don't know Tutt's exact status afterwards, but he was not just some hired hand. Certainly, with not only a tour but a planned album--which would become Run For The Roses--something serious was afoot.

The Jerry Garcia Band's drummer for most of 1981 was Daoud (nee David) Shaw. Shaw was an experienced session drummer with a lengthy pedigree. Among many other things, he was in Van Morrison's backing group for the 1970 album His Band And Street Choir, and thus Shaw was the drummer for classic tracks like "Domino" and "Blue Money."  Shaw, once in the 60s MGM group Chrysalis, had also been the original drummer for the Saturday Night Live house band, back in 1975. However, in an interview with scholar and journalist Jake Feinberg, Shaw said that he knew at the beginning that drumming for the Garcia Band was a "six-month gig," so clearly the plans were afoot with Garcia, Kahn and Tutt were all along. A busy drummer like Tutt would have had many commitments, so any tours would have had to have been planned months in advance.

Once Garcia and Kahn figured out how they wanted to construct the Garcia Band, it remained that way until 1995 (this is the playbill for the JGB Lunt-Fontanne shows in 1987. If you have trouble with the trivia questions inside, I helped write them)

The Jerry Garcia Band Blueprint, 1981
It is my proposition that the 1981 Jerry Garcia Band was constructed as the idealized summation of the previous iterations of Jerry Garcia's previous Keystone bands. The different configurations, from Garcia/Saunders, thru Legion Of Mary and then the Keith and Donna lineup, followed by Reconstruction and then the Ozzie Ahlers lineup of 1979-80 had given Garcia a chance to try out various combinations of musicians and sounds. When considering the lengthy, if obscure, history of occasional guests is considered, from Sarah Fulcher and George Tickner, through "Tim Hensley" and John Rich and many lesser known participants, it is fair to say that Garcia and Kahn had tried most typical bar band combinations across a variety of genres. Thus the 1981 JGB could fairly be pegged as the optimal Garcia Band sound, notwithstanding that Jerry and John never said things like "optimal."

In January of 1981, Garcia had debuted his new organ player, Melvin Seals, whom he had first seen playing as part of the Elvin Bishop Group. After just a few dates, Garcia peremptorily added Jimmy Warren on electric piano. Along with Daoud Shaw on drums, this lineup played steadily throughout the first half of 1981. The big surprise of the June concert was that the Garcia Band now included two female harmony vocalists. It being the Garcia Band and all, they were not introduced or alluded to on stage, and indeed it was some weeks before I even figured out their names. It was quite a shock at the Fox-Warfield when the stage curtain was raised and their were two singers joining in on "I'll Take A Melody." Sure, the band had played the night before in Santa Cruz, so some people surely knew, but nobody had even conceived of AOL, much less Twitter, so most of us had no idea.
Jerry Garcia Band, June 26, 1981   
Jerry Garcia-guitar, vocals
Melvin Seals-Hammond organ
Jimmy Warren-electric piano
Phil Lesh-bass
Daoud Shaw-drums
Liz Stires-vocals
Essra Mohawk-vocals
Leave aside, for a second, the curriculum vitae of the members of the Jerry Garcia Band at the time. Consider, instead, how the band's lineup was a distillation of earlier Garcia aggregations.

The Garcia drum chair had mainly been the province of Bill Vitt, Bill Kreutzmann and Ron Tutt, although Paul Humphrey had been the most prominent of many part-timers. The drum chair was characterized by firm time keeping and a light R&B touch. The archetype was Tutt. Even when Kreutzmann was in the chair, he had kept a lighter, firmer touch than was required for the Dead, which Billy handled admirably. Today, we know that Daoud Shaw was an interim guy as well, but he definitely fit the mold of Vitt and Tutt. Since I am proposing that the band was being built for Tutt, it was crucial that the interim drummer had the tasteful, understated feel that Tutt would bring.

It is my assertion here that after trying numerous configurations, Kahn and Garcia had decided to construct the Garcia Band along the lines of 1960s R&B bands, who in turn had built their sound around gospel music of the same era. John Kahn was a huge gospel fan, and so was Donna Godchaux, and Garcia had learned plenty about that music. The essence of that sound was a pounding, rhythmic piano, juxtaposed against a warm, swirling Hammond organ sound. For most pop music fans, even today, Ray Charles was the best known exponent of this sound, but numerous other soul hits followed this format. Amongst rock bands, the best known exponents were Procol Harum and The Band, both of them influenced by classic R&B and influential to Garcia over the years.

In the preceding decade, Garcia had moved between the organ and piano sounds. Merl Saunders' soulful Hammond sound had been the initial template for Garcia's bar band, from 1971 to 1975. When Saunders was pushed out, Garcia moved to a grand piano sound that was anchored in American roots music, first with Nicky Hopkins (Fall '75), then with James Booker (a few dates in January '76) and finally with Keith Godchaux (1976-78). Merl's organ returned for the jazzy Reconstruction ('79), and then Ozzie Ahlers played electric piano and Oberheim synth for the '79-80 tours. Ahlers was an odd hybrid, playing rhythmic piano behind Jerry, while soloing--at Garcia's insistence--on the synthesizer.

Although the formal structure of Garcia's bar bands was a quartet (Garcia/keyboard/Kahn/drummer), there were numerous efforts to add a fifth instrument over the years. Only tenor saxophonist Martin Fiero was a regular performer over an extended period (1974-75). Yet numerous other players were tried out. Among those identified from tapes were guitarists Tom Fogerty (1971-72) and then George Tickner (Spring '73), and then the electric piano player introduced by Nicky Hopkins in October 1975 as "Tim Hensley" (not apparently his actual name), pedal steel guitarist John Rich (December 1976) and a few unknown participants circa 1977. So a five-piece Garcia Band actually fit the history of the Garcia Band, but there had not yet been a regular dual keyboard lineup.

Jimmy Warren's piano playing is generally much maligned by Garcia fans. a criticism which is largely justified. Warren, a local player who was friendly with Kahn and Garcia, was overmatched by the fluid demands of the Garcia Band. Still, my concern here is with what Garcia and Kahn were trying to do, not what actually happened. Once the two singers were added to the JGB, the sonic concept of twin keyboards made sense. The "rhythm piano" was supposed to be an anchor for the vocals, freeing the organist to provide the color. Many listeners were (and are) unhappy with Keith Godchaux's mostly simplistic piano playing in the 1978 Garcia Band, but it makes more sense if we think that it should have been better paired with a rippling Hammond organ as a counterpoint.

Harmony Vocalists
The big surprise of the June Garcia Band shows was the reappearance of two harmony singers in the band. Female vocalists had been an ongoing theme for Garcia's electric bar band for most of the previous decade. The first nominee, Sarah Fulcher, who sang at some but not all Garcia/Saunders shows in 1972-73, has also been widely criticized over the years. However, she appears to have simply been a Beta test for vocalists to come. When Keith and Donna Godchaux joined the Jerry Garcia Band in January of 1976, the focus was usually on Keith, but I am of the belief that ultimately Garcia was more interested in having Donna in the band.

Starting in late 1977, Donna was joined on stage by Maria Muldaur. Maria was of course already a well-known singer, but since she was John Kahn's girlfriend, she informally but nonetheless officially joined the group. The sound of the 1978 Garcia Band was greatly enriched by the powerful harmonies of Donna and Maria. When two vocalists were added to the 1981 band, it was pretty clear that this was the sound being evoked. Since almost every Garcia Band lineup after June 1981 had two female vocalists (save for the occasional transitional dates), it's fair to say that the two female vocalists were decreed as an essential component of the Jerry Garcia Band for its remaining duration.

It is worth a note that the two female vocalists of the 1981 JGB fit the blueprint beyond their vocal skills. Donna Godchaux and Maria Muldaur were the wife and girlfriend, respectively, of two JGB members. In turn, Essra Mohawk and Liz Stires were also the wife and girlfriend of band members. Essra Mohawk, already an accomplished singer and recording artist for well over a decade, was the wife of drummer Daoud Shaw. Liz Stires, a musician who had played around Marin, was Jimmy Warren's girlfriend.

I don't think that Mohawk and Stires hiring was an accident. All bands have a personality, and it extends to the backstage scene. Maria Muldaur had initially hung out at Garcia Band shows, and had casually worked her way on stage, with the confidence that came from being a star and having already performed with Garcia on occasion. But it also meant that when Maria joined, the new person on stage was not a new person backstage. A similar dynamic must have been in play with the '81 Garcia Band. Jerry Garcia had been a legendary rock star for well over a decade by 1981, and he could nor have looked forward to any backstage drama from new members of his side band. Yet since both new harmony singers had probably been familiar backstage figures for months already, the mellow JGB vibe could stay in place.

The June 1981 Jerry Garcia Band shows were the dry runs for the forthcoming Jerry Garcia Band. The band wasn't fully operational, because Ron Tutt wasn't on board. And once Shaw was replaced by Tutt, Essra Mohawk would leave, too, which Kahn surely knew, so the lineup was just a shakedown for what was to come. That was why, paradoxically, it was acceptable when Phil Lesh was forced to substitute for John Kahn, since the lineup wasn't final anyway. But it was still strange. Here Garcia and Kahn had been working all year towards the new model Garcia Band, and Kahn's absence insured that there would be no public explanation of any plans, had any explanation ever even been contemplated.

So here was Garcia's concept of the ideal Jerry Garcia Band
  • Jerry Garcia-lead guitar and lead vocals
  • Hammond organ, for color and counterpoint soloing
  • Rhythm piano
  • Two female harmony vocalists, with an R&B flavor
  • John Kahn-electric bass
  • Ron Tutt-drums
And here's what happened throughout the life of the band
Jerry Garcia-lead guitar and lead vocals
--this may seem self-evident, but actually it's not. For example, Garcia could have had another singer sharing the lead vocals, as he sometimes did with Donna Godchaux and Sarah Fulcher, or a rhythm guitarist.
Hammond organ, for color and counterpoint soloing
--Melvin Seals provided both for Jerry for the balance of JGB history
Rhythm piano
--Jimmy Warren was a huge letdown, but Seals rhythmic touch was so great that the piano role could be dispensed with
Two female harmony vocalists, with an R&B flavor
--although the female vocalists changed over time, they were an essential part of the JGB for the rest of its history as well. Through the years, their sound moved towards a more gospel feel, but that was the roots of R&B music anyway
John Kahn-electric bass
--Kahn only missed one-and-a-half further shows with the Garcia Band. One of them was a few months later, when Phil Lesh played at a benefit for the Fairfax schools (see below), and one time Dave Torbert stepped up in Chico (Mar 17 '82) for the first set when Kahn's arrival was delayed by heavy fog.
Ron Tutt-drums
--Tutt, unfortunately, only played the Fall 1981 tour. However, the versatile and understated style established by Tutt was the hallmark of the Jerry Garcia Band drum chair. For most of a decade, the seat was filled by the great David Kemper, a studio pro with almost as stellar a studio resume as Tutt. At other times, the chair was held by Greg Errico, Gaylord Birch and Don Baldwin, all of whom fit the Tutt mold in the best of senses.

The Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, at 397 Church Street, as it appeared in July 2010. The Jerry Garcia Band played here several times, including June 25, 1981 with Phil Lesh.

Salinas and Santa Cruz
Thus the Jerry Garcia Band that was playing at the Fox-Warfield on June 26, 1981 had been designed as the blueprint for the Garcia Band, and Garcia was true to the model for the next 14 years. The irony, however, was that Kahn wasn't there. Here there was a big plan for the future, and one of the principal architects was not present for the unveiling. Although there were relatively few interviews with Kahn (Blair Jackson had the first big one in Golden Road Winter 87), neither Kahn nor Garcia ever brought this up. Granted, no one asked, but whatever the reason that Kahn wasn't available--I have no evidence for the DUI theory, it just fits the known facts--I don't think he wanted to remind anyone of it. So rather than being remembered as a seminal weekend in the history of the Jerry Garcia Band, which it was, the June shows were buried and treated as a casual one-off, which they surely were not.

Although it is my hypothesis that the Fox-Warfield shows was planned as a sort of debut for the new model Garcia Band, it wasn't their actual debut. The same lineup, with Phil Lesh on board, had played the night before (Friday June 25) at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. This, too, was a Bill Graham Presents booking. It fit the Garcia Band pattern to "open out of town," rather than in San Francisco or Berkeley, and Santa Cruz seemed to fit the bill. Intriguingly, JGMF found very solid evidence that there was an even stealthier opening, the night before Santa Cruz.

On Thursday, June 24, 1981, it seems that the Jerry Garcia Band with Phil Lesh played the tiny Sherwood Hall in Salinas. Salinas was a nondescript seaside town that had primarily been the host to the nearby Fort Ord. Salinas was in between Monterey and Santa Cruz, on CA Route 1, and a good place to try out a band with two new singers and a guest bass player. I know High Noon had opened the Santa Cruz show, but they weren't present in Salinas. The Garcia Band would return to Sherwood Hall a few months later (Aug 6 '81), but at this time Garcia was never known to have played there. I do not know how the show was publicized or announced.

Most tape lists show Merl Saunders as having guested with the Jerry Garcia Band at Santa Cruz Civic. Merl was present, as he opened the show as a member of High Noon. I have only heard a faded audience tape of the show, and I don't really hear Merl, but I guess it's possible. The current thinking seems to be that Merl just sat in for the opening two numbers ("How Sweet It Is" and "Catfish John"). However, unless a reliable eyewitness can persuade me otherwise, I don't think Merl sat in. For one thing, with two new singers and a guest bass player, why would Garcia invite a third keyboard player on stage? My own opinion is that since people knew very little about the Garcia Band and there were no stage announcements, after seeing Merl on stage with High Noon and seeing a big black guy on the organ, stoned Deadheads just made the usual assumptions and the information got passed on as gospel.

June 26, 1981 Fox-Warfield Theater, 982 Market Street, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia Band/High Noon/Mike Henderson
Most of this post has been written from the knowing perspective of hindsight, to emphasize what a peculiar event the Fox-Warfield show had been. However, it is time to briefly return to the event itself, and an eyewitness account of how the show appeared at the time. My experience may not have been identical to everyone else's, so anyone with a different perspective is encouraged to add them in the Comments.

For a reason I no longer recall, my friends and I were slow on the draw and got tickets at the back of the balcony. However, Fox-Warfield sound and sightlines were so good that we were quite satisfied. We had seen numerous Dead shows at the Warfield in 1980, and other acts besides, so we knew we were getting good enough seats. The show was not sold out, but the place was pretty full. There were empty seats near us at the back of the theater, so I assume there were empty seats at the back of the floor. The only significance of sitting in the back was that we were not around the sort of hardcore fans who would have seen the Santa Cruz show, so we had no real inkling of what was coming. In those days, your information about recent shows was pretty much dependent on the conversations of people sitting around you.

One reason that the Fox-Warfield event had been so appealing was that it was a concert rather than a Keystone Berkeley show. Keystone Berkeley's charm was that time had no meaning, and Garcia never came on stage at the Keystone in those days before 11:00pm, sometimes way, way after. At that juncture in our lives, the time required to stand around all night at Keystone was not really welcome, and a seated concert on a more conventional schedule was very attractive. We could see Garcia at Keystone Berkeley any time, and sometimes did, but often as not we found excuses not to go.

The band High Noon, featuring Mickey Hart, Merl Saunders and Norton Buffalo, was opening the show. I had seen High Noon's debut the month before at the Fox-Warfield (May 22 '81), backing Country Joe McDonald and playing their own set in a mostly acoustic format at an anti-nuclear benefit that was headlined by an acoustic lineup of the Grateful Dead. The band was very good (I have written about High Noon at length elsewhere), and I was looking forward to seeing them again. While the High Noon members had mostly been listed in the concert ad, we didn't really know what they would sound like. Other than the May benefit, the Santa Cruz show had been High Noon's second show, so there was little to go on, which made it intriguing.

However, I for one was not pleased when 8:00pm rolled around and an emcee announced "will you please welcome Mike Henderson!" Henderson was a blues guitarist and singer who sometimes opened for Garcia at the Keystone Berkeley. He wasn't on the bill, and while he wasn't terrible, his acoustic guitar-plus-singing thing worked better in a crowded beer joint like Keystone then it did at a seated concert hall. To me, it was just delaying the show, and it wasn't what we wanted. I'm seem to recall Henderson playing for a very long time, which probably was an exaggeration, but the crowd was hardly impressed. This was followed by another long wait.

Finally, around 9:30pm, the curtain came up and High Noon played. They had an electric configuration that turned out to be more conventional than the acoustic lineup that had played before, but at this point I was just happy to hear them. They played similar material to their prior show, but with longer solos. Some remarks from Norton Buffalo suggested that someone in the band had been delayed. Presumably, that was why Mike Henderson had been added to the bill. This lineup of HIgh Noon had Hart on drums, Bobby Vega on bass, Merl on keyboards and vocals, Jim McPherson on organ, guitar and vocals, Mike Hinton on lead guitar, Vicki Bailey on congas and vocals and Norton Buffalo on harmonica and vocals. High Noon played for about an hour, and left the stage around 10:30.

Those of us who were expecting a quick set change were disappointed. In usual Garcia fashion, he was in no hurry to get on stage, and there was no attempt at explanation from the emcee or anyone else. Up in the back of the balcony, you could feel the natives get restless, particularly as the clock struck midnight. What was the point of avoiding the Keystone Berkeley for a concert, if the concert was going to start even later than any Keystone show? Finally, shortly after midnight, the lights went out and the curtain came up. With no announcement, the new model Garcia Band opened with a slow "I'll Take A Melody."

Let's set the scene: Garcia has made his jittery Friday night audience wait a few extra hours, and opened with a slow ballad, seemingly a recipe for frustrating the crowd. Yet Jerry was Jerry. The curtain came up, and there were two unexpected--to me--female vocalists covering the harmonies, and the anticipated yet still unexpectedly dramatic sight of Phil Lesh tucked back in John Kahn's space near the drums. When Jerry got into the first solo, he had the crowd in the palm of his hand, and all the waiting and frustration was immediately washed away. I saw my share of Garcia shows, but I'll never forget that moment. The full two-set show ended after 2:30am, very late for a BGP concert, but I didn't care, and neither did Bill, apparently. Sic Transit Gloria Jerome.

Sandy Hurvitz's debut album, Sandy's Album Is Here At Last, released on Verve Records in 1969. It was produced by chief Zappa henchman Ian Underwood, and featured many Mothers Of Invention. Hurvitz, now better known as Essra Mohawk, was a part-time member of the Mothers Of Invention in the summer of '67
Notes from Essra Mohawk
Although the June Warfield JGB was the shape of things to come, in fact there were many changes to follow. Tutt would replace Daoud Shaw on drums, which had always been planned, so when Shaw left, his wife departed too, which must also have been anticipated. She was replaced by Julie Stafford, another thread to be unraveled. When last sighted, Ms Stafford was a real estate agent in Georgia, and little is known about how she was recruited into the Garcia Band or her tenure there. However, very recently, Essra Mohawk was interviewed by Jake Feinberg, and she had some interesting tidbits about playing with the Garcia Band in 1981.

Essra Mohawk only sang with the Garcia Band for twelve dates in the Summer of 1981, all in the Bay Area. Although she got the gig because her husband was the drummer, in fact she is a very interesting musician and songwriter, with a pedigree that extends long before and after her brief Garcia Band stint in 1981. Essra Mohawk, originally Sandy Hurvitz of Philadelphia, had made an album on Verve Records in 1969 that was supervised by Frank Zappa. Hurvitz had hung out with the Mothers Of Invention in the Summer of 1967 when they had played the Garrick Theater, where she sometimes sat in, and was given the stage name of "Uncle Meat." The Mothers had started playing the Garrick right when the Dead began their two-week run in June of 1967 at the Cafe AuGoGo, in the same Greenwich Village building as the Garrick. John Perry Barlow reunited with Weir then, and he has cryptically mentioned a trip to Millbrook with Weir, Lesh and Hurvitz. Feinberg unraveled a few other interesting details (my transcriptions are paraphrased):
--Lived up in Mendocino for a while, Went out [to San Francisco] in '67. Became friends with the Grateful Dead, they said come to Monterey Pop Festival, went to Monterey Pop with Linda Ronstadt. Went to San Francisco with a high school friend, missed the Monterey Pop festival [sic-self contradiction], ended up at some free hippie fest. Hung out in Haight Ashbury
--Buddies with Bob Weir, and Phil Lesh and I were an item for a minute
--John Kahn knew my husband, Dauod Shaw, the original SNL drummer and played with Van for 10 years, and Jerry's drummer was on tour or out of town and Daoud went to fill in
--Liz [Stires] wouldn't take any of the high notes I had the range and she didn't
--I'm from Philly, if you're on stage and you're a woman, you dance and you do steps
--you don't stand there like a stick, like she did
--she complained about me dancing. I thought women that looked good on stage should dance. How can you inspire the audience if you're not grooving?
--she actually complained and I was told to stop dancing
I do recall that in the 1981-82 version of the JGB, with Liz Stires and Julie Stafford, both women would leave the stage when the band started to solo. The most interesting detail that arises from the Essra Mohawk interview, however, was that for the few shows that Phil Lesh ever played with the Jerry Garcia Band, his ex-girlfriend and her husband were in the band. To be fair, it was 14 years later, and I don't think it was a deep and lasting relationship or anything, but it's still a funny rock and roll story.
Although initially begun as a Jerry Garcia Band project in Fall 1981, Run For The Roses was ultimately released as a Jerry Garcia solo album on Arista Records in November 1982

The Jerry Garcia Band continued on until 1995, very much along the path that had been laid out in June of 1981, save for the rhythm piano. Melvin Seals swirling organ, the soulful female harmonies and the spare, flexible drumming were integral to the sound up until the very end. Ron Tutt returned to the Garcia Band in October 1981, but things weren't the same. Not with the music--Tutt was still the gold standard for drummers. Yet when Tutt found out that Melvin Seals was a Christian, he pulled him aside and told him that they had to do something to rescue Jerry from the perils of his drug use. Now, this was a sincere, Christian thing to do, but even the mighty Ron Tutt could not pull that off. After the 1981 tour, Tutt mostly worked with Neil Diamond, and never returned to the Jerry Garcia Band. Bill Kreutzmann took over the chair until mid-82.

Run For The Roses was finally released in late 1982, the second and last studio album credited to the Jerry Garcia Band. There were only seven tracks on the album, two of them outtakes from the 1974 sessions that produced Compliments Of Garcia, and another track was a needless cover of "Knocking On Heaven's Door." Phil Lesh played one more date with the Garcia Band, apparently a last second booking of a benefit for the Fairfax schools, and never played with them again. No one ever inquired why he had filled in for Kahn in the first place, about dreams that were trying to become real and plans that didn't exactly worked out the way they were intended in the first place.

Appendix 1: June 26, 1981 Fox-Warfield Theatre, San Francisco, CA: Jerry Garcia Band
I: I'll Take A Melody, How Sweet It Is, They Love Each Other, Mississippi Moon, Tangled Up In Blue
II: Mission In The Rain, The Harder They Come, Knockin' On Heaven's Door, Dear Prudence, Midnight Moonlight
(Phil Lesh substitutes for John Kahn)

Appendix 2: August 22, 1981 Fairfax Pavilion, Fairfax, CA: Jerry Garcia Band
I: How Sweet It Is, Mission In The Rain, Sugaree, Tangled Up In Blue
II: I'll Take A Melody, The Harder They Come, Knockin' On Heaven's Door, Midnight Moonlight
(Phil Lesh substitutes for John Kahn)
The Jerry Garcia Band played this last-second benefit for the Fairfax Schools, and Phil Lesh stood in on bass. I don't recall how it was advertised, and it may not have been publicized much at all. I don't know what Garcia's connection to the Fairfax schools might have been. The JGB had played the two previous nights at the Keystone Berkeley, with Kahn on board, so Phil's presence didn't seem like such a big deal. Of course, no explanation has ever been forthcoming as to why Phil was there instead. At the time, I recall thinking that maybe JGB guest appearances by Phil would be like Bill Kreutzmann sitting in, occasional but regular. I was quite wrong.

I should point out that people underestimated Jerry as a bandleader. At the Fairfax show, all but one of the songs he called were ones that Phil had already played with the Garcia Band in June. The other song? "Sugaree." Phil knew that one.

Appendix 3: Run For The Roses-Jerry Garcia
Initial release : November 1982
Arista AL 9603
The second and last studio album credited to the Jerry Garcia Band. Includes two Garcia/Hunter songs and one by Garcia, Hunter and John Kahn.

  • Run For The Roses (Jerry Garcia / Robert Hunter)
  • I Saw Her Standing There (John Lennon / Paul McCartney)
  • Without Love (Clyde McPhatter)
  • Midnight Getaway (Jerry Garcia / John Kahn / Robert Hunter)
  • Leave The Little Girl Alone (John Kahn / Robert Hunter)
  • Valerie (Jerry Garcia / Robert Hunter)
  • Knockin' On Heaven's Door (Bob Dylan)
  • Producer - Jerry Garcia, John Kahn
  • Basic recording - Betty Cantor-Jackson, Ron Malo
  • Overdubs, mixing - Bob Matthews
  • Art - Victor Moscoso
  • Crew - Steve Parish, Harry Popick, George Varra
  • Arrangement - Jerry Garcia, John Kahn, Roger Neuman (horn arrangements on Without Love)
  • Management - Rock Scully, Sue Stephens, Alan Trist
  • Thanks to - Grateful Dead Productions, John Cutler, Willy Legate, Dan Steadman
  • Mastering - George Horn
  • Tracks 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7 recorded at Club Front, San Rafael, September to December 1981
  • Tracks 2 and 3 recorded at Devonshire Studios, Los Angeles, February 1974

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Pigpen Solo Projects 1969, 1971, 1973 (Why?)

The vast scholarship on the music of the Grateful Dead is deeply entwined with the emotional investment of its scholars. Their feelings about the Dead's music play an essential role in the way the band's musical legacy is interrogated. Ron "Pigpen" McKernan is a foundational part of that legacy, and yet, for all his importance, The Pig remains just beyond the edge of accessible. Sure, we have plenty of tapes of his performances, and some photos and video, but Grateful Dead scholars treat him with a reverence that is not accorded to other band members.

The Grateful Dead had a relatively small audience in the 1960s, so not that many people actually saw Pigpen in concert. Those that did were often fairly young, and just figuring out the Dead on their own, so however impressed they may have been, they often didn't quite grasp all that Pigpen brought to the table when he busted out of a difficult "Dark Star" jam with a blazing "Turn On Your Lovelight." Even the members of the Dead themselves, an unsentimental lot on the whole, turn mystical and rhapsodic when the subject of "the mighty Pig"--as Phil Lesh called him--is invoked. So Pigpen, though revered, remains oddly unexamined.

Everyone who knew Pigpen said that he was the least interested of any of the band in being a "rock star." In Jerry Garcia's words, Pigpen didn't have "the celebrity head." Pig loved music, worked hard, was loyal to his mates, but on some level he wasn't really interested in success. Interested in music, yes; interested in not having a real job, yes; but interested in being a revered icon? No. So why then were there Pigpen solo projects? There were two or three, depending on how you want to count, and they are at odds with everything we know about Pigpen. So it is time to examine the not-unknown but still ephemeral Pigpen solo projects from 1969, 1971 and 1973 to see what they can tell us about Ron McKernan and his relationship to the Grateful Dead.

Heavy, Iron Butterfly's 1968 debut album. Lead singer Darryl DeLoach had left the group before the hugely successful Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida was released later that year
Pigpen and The Grateful Dead
In the early 60s, rock and roll was a strange, rebellious enterprise. The few people who were interested in such a thing hardly knew anyone else who cared, or had a way to connect to them. Most mid-60s rock bands were initially formed as a group of like-minded friends, often with widely varying talent. The original bassist for The Beatles, for example, was John Lennon's best friend, Stuart Sutcliffe. He was a talented artist, apparently, but no musician, so Paul McCartney had to switch over from guitar. That worked out ok in the end, fortunately. The Warlocks bass player was the son of the music store owner where much of the band worked, but he was no bassist either. In this case, a friend was drafted as much for like-mindedness as musicianship, and certainly Phil Lesh had never played guitar, or bass. Still, that too worked out in the end. Most 60s rock bands had such stories in the early days, of musicians hired for their haircut or suitable attitude.

However, rock music changed dramatically from 1965 to 1968, and that led to another series of changes in plenty of bands, even ones who had records. Since a lot of bands were mainly a group of friends that stuck together, they played whatever music they liked, rather than having any sort of plan. But that sometimes meant that a band changed so much that original members didn't fit in. Many mid-60s "British Invasion" style bands were modeled on groups like the Rolling Stones, with a lead singer trying to emulate R&B singers. Yet within a few years, extended jams and long solos were more typical, and lead singers were more dispensable. Many lead singers found themselves pushed out after an early album or two. To name just one example, the original Iron Butterfly featured lead singer Darryl DeLoach, and he was on the band's first album, Heavy. However, as the band evolved into playing longer songs, the other band members could cover the vocals, and DeLoach was nudged aside. Thus by the time Iron Butterfly had a 1968 smash with "Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida," one of the biggest hits of all time, DeLoach was just another struggling singer in LA without a band.

Pipgen very nearly followed the path of Darryl DeLoach. Pigpen was essential to the Warlocks and the early Grateful Dead, as a singer, an organ player and a personality. By the beginning of 1968, the Grateful Dead were playing some difficult music, and for all that Pigpen had been musically ahead of most band members at the beginning, he had largely fallen behind. All Deadheads know that there was a famous Summer '68 band meeting when Pigpen and Bob Weir were all but fired from the group. Both of them managed to hang on, but Pigpen's role was hugely diminished. His role as organ player was taken over by Tom Constanten, and while he still sang some key rave-ups, like "Turn On Your Lovelight," the 1969 Grateful Dead played far fewer blues covers, which had been the bulk of Pig's stage repertoire. It was a credit to both Pigpen and the Dead that Pigpen was not simply forced aside, like Darryl DeLoach. Weir could have sang "Lovelight," and everyone else would have been sharing Pigpen's piece of the financial pie. So there is some reason to think that for all the band's personal loyalty to Pig, he had a peculiar adjunct status that no other band member did. Thus the recurring idea of a Pigpen solo project fits in with Pigpen's musical contributions: part of the Grateful Dead, but not quite the same.

The Sir Douglas Quintet's second album for Mercury (on the Smash imprint) was Mendocino, released in April 1969. The success of the hit single and album justified Mercury's investment in numerous SF bands at the time
1969 Sessions for Mercury Records
The first and most mysterious of the Pigpen solo projects is the 1969 recording, ostensibly from Mercury Studios. Nothing is really known directly of this project, but LightIntoAshes, as always, has done stellar work in finding out the details. "I’m a Lovin’ Man" is a slickly produced country song sung by Pigpen and Weir. Garcia plays pedal steel, and John Tenney plays fiddle. Also circulating on tape was an instrumental version of Buck Owens’ song "I Don’t Care (Just As Long As You Love Me)"  again with Garcia on pedal steel and Tenney on fiddle. LIA contacted the violinist on the session, veteran Bay Area musician John Tenney, who recalled:
In late 1969 I played fiddle on a song called ‘I'm a Lovin' Man’ for a proposed Pigpen solo album. Jerry, Pigpen and Weir were playing. The bass player was Dennis Parker (on my recommendation), then with a SF band called All Men Joy. The drummer was Scott Morris. The song was written by Clancy Carlile, a novelist, songwriter and honkytonk guitarist/singer with whom I was playing in a country band. (He was involved in the production.) The session was at Pacific High Recording. My recollection is that Pigpen's album was maybe going to come out on Mercury or its subsidiary Smash. Mercury had a strong presence in San Francisco at the time, with its own studio. The producer I think was one Bob Serempa, a local A&R man with Mercury. I don't know why he used Pacific High for the recording, except that the Mercury studio was very busy with people like the Sir Douglas Quintet at the time.
Bob Serempa, as LIA points out, was not just a Mercury A&R man, but their Director Of West Coast Operations. Mercury Records, though late to the party in San Francisco, had come in hard to SF and had signed a dozen bands in 1968. They had even opened their own studio on 1340 Mission Street, and indeed Dan Healy was doing a lot of contract work for Mercury. However, another scholar queried Dan Healy for me, and Healy corrected the record somewhat:
This is too much for me to write about now but I will sit down with you when we have a chance and you can get my info about it. That version of "Lovin' Man" was written by Doug Sahm and it wasn't PHR, it was Columbus Recorders (basement ot the Flatiron on Columbus Ave) owned by Frank Werber and the Kingston Trio. The story goes on, but not here. Serenpa was the West Coast Mercury "director," but not really a so-called A&R guy.
Yet this still leaves the question, raised by LIA, as to why was Pigpen recording not only country music, but recording for Mercury when the band was signed to Warner Brothers. We can do nothing but speculate, but a few key factors come into consideration. As always, the key to unlocking inexplicable Grateful Dead activities can be turned with a simple question: where's the money? Why would Bob Serempa, a senior Mercury Records director, pay to record members of the Grateful Dead for a solo project, when the band was under contract to another label? And why would Mercury use an inferior studio, when they had their own studio right there in San Francisco?

The only answer that makes sense is that the recordings were demos for a future project, and that Mercury expected to be able to sign the Grateful Dead, or at least Jerry Garcia. The band members themselves were fairly naive about their contract status in 1969, but in fact manager Lenny Hart was negotiating with Warner Brothers for an extension, without telling the band. Otherwise, the band might have been free agents. Serempa and Mercury may have known this--indeed, Lenny Hart may have told him--and Serempa may have wanted to evaluate the Dead in the studio while also building up some good will with Jerry Garcia. Thus hiring old buddy Dan Healy to engineer the sessions was smart business, and using the somewhat inferior Columbus Recorders was ok, since the sessions were not necessarily going to yield an album. Calling the sessions a "Pipgen solo album" would have provided a little bit of polite cover in case Warner Brothers heard about it.

Keep in mind also that Garcia, Weir and Pigpen would have been paid for the sessions, probably about $90 for a three hour session. Whoever was designated the "leader" got $180. So if the band members spent a couple of days in the studio, doing four 3-hour sessions, for example, they would have ended up with several hundred dollars. Did they cash the checks? Lenny might have, and not told them. This would also explain why the other band members could be safely left out of the payday, if Lenny had arranged some peculiar pay scheme. Certainly Phil Lesh has alluded to the fact that the 1969 Dead members were not good at playing with non-Dead musicians. Dennis "Funky" Parker, a great bassist, would have been a far better choice in 1969 than Phil Lesh, who by his own admission, was completely idiosyncratic.

Why would Mercury go to all this trouble? It's easier to ask why they wouldn't. Record companies were making money hand over fist in 1969, and signing the right artist could be a gold mine. Warner Brothers, for example, has certainly benefited over the decades from the fact that Lenny Hart extended the Grateful Dead's deal in 1969 for three more years, rather than letting it expire. It was common practice for record companies to throw money around to favored artists, in the hopes of merely getting them to consider signing with them at a later date. Columbia's Clive Davis essentially signed the New Riders Of The Purple Sage (who in the end made a lot of money for CBS) in order to get in Garcia's good graces. This did not pay off until around 5 years later--although just for Clive Davis, not for Columbia--, when the Dead finally signed with Davis and Arista. At the same time, Warner Brothers signed Mickey Hart to a three-album deal. Once the Dead went independent, however, Warners rejected Hart's last two albums. 

Mercury Records had come into San Francisco late and big. By 1968, all of the legendary bands from the city had been signed. Nonetheless, Mercury signed pretty much anyone with long hair, and ended up with a dozen bands on their roster. Some of them are awfully obscure--raise your hand if you have ever heard the Fifty Foot Hose album--but one of them was a giant success. Doug Sahm, exiled from Texas and pop stardom due to an untimely 1966 pot bust, was an Avalon back marker when he signed with Mercury. He reformed his Sir Douglas Quintet (some original band members had finally gotten off probation from the bust) and they had a giant hit with "Mendocino." The money Mercury made on "Mendocino" made up for all the other bands, by a huge margin. Mercury thus got as much Return-On-Equity as Columbia, Warners, Capitol or RCA, even if the Fifty Foot Hose barely sold anything. Dropping a few thousand in the hopes that there could be a play in the future for Jerry Garcia or the Grateful Dead? No problem--he could have had a sixty-foot hose, if he had wanted one.

Yet what about Pigpen? Pig apparently had a good feel for honky-tonk style country music, and Doug Sahm usually wrote in a bluesy style, so that fits. Buck Owens seems to be a Jerry touch, but certainly Buck owed plenty to R&B and Chuck Berry, even if Buck didn't wear it on his sleeve. At the very least, Mercury seemed to be using a song by its own artist, perhaps in the hope of getting some publishing money out of a future deal. The session actually makes musical sense, but it's hard not to see Jerry as the driver, rather than Pigpen. The fact that so little is known or recalled about these sessions suggests some Lenny Hart maneuvering. Dan Healy may be the last one who remembers what was actually intended, and hopefully he will tell the story sometime. In any case, it does not seem that there was an actual Pigpen album really intended, since there was neither a signed contract nor a plan. 

It made sense for Warner Brothers to release a Jerry Garcia album, but not a Mickey Hart one. No matter--Warners released it anyway, because that's how record companies worked back then
1971--The Year Of Solo Albums
By 1971, Sam Cutler had the Grateful Dead ship sailing in safer waters. The Dead had toured hard in 1970, and they had also recorded two FM-friendly albums on time and under budget. The Dead weren't rich rock stars yet, but they had graduated from all living communally on a ranch, nor were they just driving leased Ford Cortinas. Band members were starting to see the middle class, if it was still a bit down the road. However, with the first trappings of success, the Dead would also have started to see how the early 70s record industry distorted their individual finances.

The Grateful Dead covered their expenses and made payroll thanks to their extensive touring. However, touring itself was expensive--plane tickets, gear, road crew--so it was hard to get a really big payout just from playing every college gym on the Eastern seaboard. Since Workingman's Dead and American Beauty were good selling records, the band members would have been starting to see some money from them. However, the money would initially have been skewed towards the songwriters rather than the band members.

All 60s record contracts basically required the band to pay back the expenses of recording the album before the band saw any money. Thus an expensive record like Aoxomoxoa would not see any royalties for many years. An album like Workingman's probably broke even fairly quickly, but of course any other advances had to be paid back as well, and in any case the Warner Brothers accountants were not going to do the Dead any favors either. So royalty money probably just trickled in to the general ledger.

However, songwriting royalties came from the publishing company, which in the case of Ice-Nine was ASCAP. Actually explaining how ASCAP royalties were generated is too much of a diversion, even for this blog--notwithstanding you wouldn't believe it--but in general the revenue came from a portion of radio station ads that went to the music publishers like ASCAP, who in turn sent some to the writers. Thus, as soon as Workingman's Dead started to receive substantial airplay, Ice-Nine Publishing and the individual songwriters would have started to get money, long before royalties from Warners, since the band would not yet have recouped the costs. Ice-Nine money went into the general ledger, but Garcia and Robert Hunter had written all the songs for Workingman's, so they would have gotten the most money the quickest.

It doesn't take Fernand Braudel to figure out that the next Grateful Dead album would feature songwriting credits for more than just Garcia. Hunter wrote all the lyrics for American Beauty, but Weir, Lesh and Pigpen wrote music. Hunter, in fact, wrote the lyrics for "Operator," and may have written some of the music, too, but at Pigpen's request he assigned the copyright to Pigpen. Hunter has never regretted giving away the credit, but the fact that Pigpen asked means that he was acutely aware of the financial benefits of composing a song on a hit album.

Over the course of relentless touring in 1971, the members of the Grateful Dead were writing songs in anticipation of various future recording projects. These songs would turn up in the live repertoire as the band found time to rehearse them. All of the band members were preparing for an unscheduled but forthcoming Grateful Dead studio album. However, because the Dead chose to go independent, no studio album was recorded, and live versions of the band's new songs were put on Grateful Dead and Europe '72.

Pigpen was no different than Weir or Garcia, in that he must have seen that the direct path to income was including songs on forthcoming albums. Pigpen wrote four songs that were actually performed by the Grateful Dead, "Mr. Charlie" (with Hunter, debuted Jul 31 '71), "Empty Pages" (debuted Aug 23 '71), "Chinatown Shuffle" (debuted Dec 31 '71) and "Two Souls In Communion" (aka "The Stranger," debuted Mar 21 '72). No such studio album was ever recorded, to the disappointment of Robert Hunter (not to mention the rest of us), but if it had, Pigpen would have surely had a track or two. In any case, "Mr. Charlie" made it onto Europe '72, released in November of that year.

The other dynamic for both the Grateful Dead and the record industry as a whole was the rise of the solo album. By 1971, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young had shown that fans could appreciate solo albums without thinking that a band had "broken up," so record companies encouraged solo albums by band members under contract. In many cases, these solo albums were considered part of the band's deal with the record company. Bob Weir's Ace, for example, was considered a Grateful Dead album per the Warners contract. Of course, there were numerous other attractions to solo albums, both for the record company and the artist. Record companies found it easier to deal with and promote a solo artist, thus avoiding band politics, and artists in turn found that they could get more money and have considerably less hassle. Both Garcia (July 1971) and Weir (May '72) had released solo albums, and a Pigpen album made perfect sense. Pigpen had some original tunes, and along with some covers and maybe some help from the ever prolific Hunter, a pretty cool album could have materialized.

Oakland Tribune, September 8, 1971
The most tantalizing hint of such a project was a little known advertisement for a Pigpen solo gig, at an obscure bar in San Francisco, which I first unearthed some years ago. As near as I can tell, The Gold Club was at 56 Gold Street, an alley in North Beach, near Jackson Street, between Montgomery and Sansome. I think the Gold Club was the former Assay Office back in Gold Rush days, and the alley and the club got that name. I believe it was a gay bar in the 80s and 90s, and it is currently Bix Restaurant. While I am sure the building has been remodeled, current pictures on the link gives us an idea of the contours of the interior.

The idea, apparently, was that Pigpen would sing and play harmonica, backed only by Merl Saunders on organ and piano. Regular contributor LightIntoAshes found a quote from Merl Saunders, who explained the genesis of the idea:
I started hanging out at this club with Jerry and that is where I first met Pigpen. We only lived four blocks from each other... I had heard about Pigpen but I had never met him.I was into Jimmy Smith and the Hammond Organ sound. Jerry and I started playing The Keystone in Berkeley and Ron and the rest of the guys would come down. Ron would sit in with us and I was always trying to get him to play keyboards. He would say “No, I just want to play my harmonica behind your organ playing.” That is how we got it going. We had actually discussed doing a thing together with piano, organ and harmonica. There was a little club off of Broadway in North Beach that was going to hire us, but unfortunately it never happened.
Leaving aside, for a moment, the tantalizing subject of Pigpen sitting in with Garcia/Saunders at Keystone Berkeley--hitherto unknown to us--Merl's remark gives us a hint to what might have been considered. The key to me is not imagining the Merl and Pig show, cool as that would have been, but the idea of Pigpen as a solo performer.

By September 1971, Jerry Garcia had released his Warner Brothers solo album, and the Ace project for Bob Weir had probably been agreed to in principle. Given the record industry at the time, a corresponding Pigpen solo project would have made a lot of sense. If Merl Saunders was on board to shepherd the execution, it could have been a cool album. We know Pigpen was working on his own material, Hunter could have been counted on for a song or two, and there would have been an infinite universe of covers to choose from. If Merl was running the sessions, Jerry Garcia would surely have been there, and Bill Kreutzmann wouldn't have been far behind.

However this was conceived, it never happened. The most important issue, of course, was that Pigpen's health was in serious jeopardy, and he stopped playing with the Dead until December of 1971. Secondarily, there's no evidence that Pigpen himself wanted to make a solo album. It would have made a lot of sense to Jon McIntire, but not particularly to Pig. Garcia and Weir both had the "celebrity head," and were interested in what they could do without having to conform to the tastes of other band members. Pipgen, by contrast, never evinced such interests. Certainly, Pigpen wanted to have the financial rewards of his own song (or two) on the next Dead album, but little did he know that it was some ways away. A Merl Saunders produced album by Pigpen was a great idea, and Warner Brothers surely would have financed it (they financed a Mickey Hart album, after all),  but it wasn't in Pigpen's head. So no such thing happened.

Wake Of The Flood was recorded in August 1973 and released in November
1973-The Last Go Round
We all know the story. Pigpen had to go off the road in Fall '71, while Keith Godchaux became the piano player. Pig reappeared in December of 71, but his health still wasn't great. Supposedly, he was told that going on the Europe '72 tour in the Spring would endanger his health, but Pig went anyway. After the tour, and one final appearance at the Hollywood Bowl (June 17 '72), where he didn't even sing, Pigpen went off the road for the last time. Everyone in the band thought it was liver problems from his extensive drinking, but in fact it was an auto-immune disease (the liver problems were triggered by the auto-immunity failure, apparently). The assumption, however, was that if Pigpen "got healthy" by staying off the road and not drinking, he would be OK--whatever that meant. By all accounts, he did make a genuine effort to be as healthy as possible.

Given the record industry at the time, a Pigpen solo album seemed like a logical choice. The band was regularly quoted to that effect (via LIA)
Bob Matthews: “In the last couple of years of his life he was being encouraged to do an album by both the band and the record company. I had him set up with my own little portable Ampex half-inch 4-track machine and a little Ampex 2-channel, 4-microphone mixer…it allowed him to overdub. But I never heard any of the stuff he did with it.”
Alan Trist: “During that period when he wasn’t on the road with the band he was actually working on an album, working on songs. Around that time, the solo album thing really took off – Jerry was the first, then Weir, and Mickey, and Pigpen was right in there too. He was working up songs, planning it out. I remember going over to his house a couple of times and hearing odd tapes that he played. His way of projecting the blues through his singing was so soulful and authentic, whether it was with the Grateful Dead or by himself at home.” 
Weir said in ’72, “Pigpen, if health permits, will be coming up with some surprises pretty quickly. His album is still in the future. It’s not a concrete reality yet. He’s written some very good songs, but…he’s not ready to do an album yet.” 
This is the story that is repeated over and over. Pigpen wasn't a working member of the Dead, but he was "working on a solo album." Various tapes have circulated with labels like "Pipgen demos." It's a nice story. But there seems to have been a lot of wishful thinking attached to it. Pigpen didn't want his own project--he never did. Merl Saunders would have been happy to work on album with him, and it would have been good, but Pigpen never initiated that. I think the band members comforted themselves about Pipgen's exile by saying "he was working on an album." That had worked for Mickey Hart, who didn't lack for drive and ideas, but that wasn't Pigpen. He still saw himself, now and forever, as one of the Grateful Dead.

Rock Scully, always a complicated figure in Grateful Dead narratives, nonetheless seems to have hit the nail on the head (via LIA)
According to Rock Scully: “I don’t think it was really going to be a solo album. I think the way he looked at it was it was going to be part of a Dead album. He wanted three songs on a Dead album. A couple of them were beautiful. He didn’t have enough for a whole album; he wanted [to be on] a Dead album again. He’d worked up a couple of really nice songs. They were a little sad, but with Jerry’s influence I think they could have worked beautifully with the Grateful Dead.”
Remember, in Fall '72, the Grateful Dead had abandoned their contract with Warner Brothers, and refused to sign with Columbia or anyone else, because they had chosen to go independent. For the likes of Jerry Garcia, this meant he could release solo albums and projects to his heart's content. No doubt the original architecture of Grateful Dead and Round Records included an idea for a Pigpen solo album, but I don't think it was shared by Pigpen. He wanted to sing on the next Dead album, whenever that was.

In late 1972 and early 1973, while Pigpen was still alive and apparently "doing well," the Dead had rehearsed a batch of new songs. By February 1973, most of those songs were in the live repertoire. Although the band still owed one more album to Warner Brothers--Bear's Choice covered that--they would soon be free. Plans must have been afoot for the recording of the next Grateful Dead studio album. I have to think Pigpen wanted to be in on that.

And really, it would have been fun. In early '73, the band members probably realized it was going to be a long time, if ever, before Pigpen could have more than a limited studio role with the Grateful Dead. Of course, they didn't know how sick he really was, but hindsight is 20/20--at the time, they would have thought that Pigpen just needed a couple of years off the road. If they were planning a Fall '73 album on Grateful Dead Records, it would have been cool if Pigpen was on board to sing a song. I have to think that it was at least generally on the band's mind, even if they don't talk about it now.

My own opinion, unsupported by any evidence, is that if Pigpen's health had allowed, he would have had a song on Wake Of The Flood, but it wouldn't have been "The Stranger" or any of his other songs. I think it would have been "Loose Lucy." The song was written and rehearsed in early 73 with a much slower arrangement, and it seems custom made for Pigpen. To be clear, I can't remotely prove this. However, Hunter had facilitated Pigpen before, with "Easy Wind" and "Operator"--why not "Loose Lucy"? Pig could have put his own inimitable stamp on it, probably a lot more bawdy than Garcia's, and both songwriters would have cheerily added the mighty Pig to the writing credits.

It wasn't to be. Pigpen died on March 8, 1973, to the shock of his friends and bandmates. They thought he was in ill health, but had been cleaning up his act. Little did they know that his auto-immune disorder was the problem, not particularly his history of excessive drinking. The band moved on. "Loose Lucy" dropped out of the rotation. It re-appeared a year later, much faster, at a tempo that suited Jerry but not Pigpen. but that hardly mattered anymore.

Ron "Pigpen" McKernan is a touchstone of Grateful Dead philology, but few of the Grateful Dead philologists have ever seen him in person. Given Pigpen's importance in the band's history, we all take at face value his critical importance to the Grateful Dead. Yet at times, we refuse to see the evidence in front of us. In an era when even drummers got to record solo albums, Pigpen--a vibrant singer, a pretty good songwriter and a knowledgeable blues enthusiast--regularly refused every opportunity to go out on his own. The band members and family members hoped and wished that Pig would make his own record, but he never showed any inclination. More's the pity. The history of would-be Pigpen solo projects tells us more about the band and their wishes for their friend and bandmate than about the subject himself.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

May 30 1975, Marx Meadows, Golden Gate Park: Jefferson Starship/Diga Rhythm Band (Jerry and Owsley Fin De Seicle?)

The Stanford Daily Entertainment Listings for May 30, 1975. The Jefferson Starship free concert in Golden Gate Park was listed, a sign that the concert was not only approved but not expected to overwhelm the park
The Diga Rhythm Band put out an album on Round Records in March 1976, but they only had three known public performances under that name, all in May 1975. All three of them were opening for the Jefferson Starship and The Sons Of Champlin. Diga opened for the Starship on a Friday and Saturday night at Winterland, on May 16 and 17. While in the middle of a national tour supporting their new album Red Octopus in a very San Francisco fashion, the Starship played a free concert in Marx Meadows in Golden Gate Park on the afternoon of Friday, May 30. There is no doubt of the dater in Starship's performance, as it was publicized in the papers. However, it is not generally noticed that not only did The Diga Rhythm Band open for the Starship and The Sons at Marx Meadows, but that they were joined by David Freiberg on bass and Jerry Garcia on guitar for a 14 minute version of "Fire On The Mountain." For some years I was not certain of Garcia's presence, but the entire 33-minute has surfaced, and there is no doubt.

There may be another lost piece of significance to Garcia's jam with the Diga Rhythm Band at Golden Gate Park on May 30, 1975. There is a reasonably high probability, though not a certainty, that the Jefferson Starship's soundman may have been manning the board for Diga. Since the Starship's soundman was one Owsley Stanley, it would have been fitting that Jerry was mixed by Owsley one last time, at a free concert in Golden Gate Park.

Ustad Alla Rahka and his son Zakir Hussain
Mickey Hart and The Ali Akbar College Of Music
All the members of the Grateful Dead were constantly exploring new music, but Mickey Hart was the only one who made a specific effort to actually receive any kind of formal training. Master indian tabla player Ustad Alla Rakha had moved to the Bay Area in about 1963. Rakha was responsible for the foundation of both The Center For World Music, based in San Francisco and then Berkeley (and now San Diego), and also The Ali Akbar College Of Music, first in Oakland and then in San Rafael.

The Ali Akbar College Of Music was established in Oakland in 1967. Mickey Hart started studying at the school with tabla master Shankar Gosh in 1968, taking what he learned in the school back to Bill Kreutzmann and hence to the Grateful Dead. The College was based in a house in the Oakland hills, at 6024 Ascot Drive. The school outgrew the house however, and thanks to the timely intervention of Rhoney Stanley, the lease was taken over by Owsley Stanley, and the house passed into Grateful Dead legend. At different times, Owsley and Rhoney's roommates included Bob Weir, Bob Thomas, Bob Matthews, Ramrod and Betty Cantor.

In return for letting Owsley and Rhoney take over the lease on 6024 Ascot, Alla Rakha got Rhoney to arrange for his drumming students, including Mickey, to take part in a Grateful Dead concert. True to her word, Rhoney arranged for a special drumming session at the Berkeley Community Theater on September 20, 1968, when Gosh and Vince Delgado joined Mickey and Bill for some high-end percussion. The event was not only an early rock band experiment with "World Music"--not an extant term at the time--but also the first inkling of the "Rhythm Devils" section of Grateful Dead concerts that would arise 10 years later. The Ali Akbar College Of Music then moved to San Rafael, where it remains today.

Shankar Gosh returned to India in 1969, and he was replaced at the school by Zakir Hussain. Hussain was just 21, but he was Alla Rakha's son and had been training since he was 8, In 1970, when Hart and Zakir Hussain met, Mickey would have only been 26 and he had been a drummer since childhood as well, so although from different continents and musical traditions, they appear to have had many parallels. I do not know whether Hart was formally a student of Hussain, but clearly they were friends and Hart presumably played regularly with him. Hussain had an Indian/Rock fusion group called Shanti, who released an album on Atlantic Records in 1971, and Hart had hosted a party and probable FM broadcast at his ranch (August 21, 1971), with Jerry Garcia and the New Riders playing as well. Hart and Hussain also produced an album called Sarangi, The Music Of India, by Ustad Sultan Kahn, in 1974.

The entertainment listings from the Hayward Daily Review of May 16, 1975 list the Diga Rhythm Band opening both nights at Winterland for Jefferson Starship and The Sons of Champlin
Diga Rhythm Band and Jefferson Starship
The roots of the Diga Rhythm Band itself was explained in  the 1976 Round Records Newsletter:
In 1971 Zakir began to select some of his advance students for a school orchestra of only rhythm instruments. This was called Tal Vadyum Rhythm Band and they performed once a quarter at the Ali Akbar Kahn Collect of Music. This was the beginning of the Diga Band. In April, 1975 the Jefferson Starship asked them to play a concert with them and the Sons of Champlin. The band decided to play and also to change their name for public performance. The name chosen was Diga Rhythm Band.
We don't know how often Hart played with the Tay Vadyum Rhythm Band at their quarterly shows, but Hart was not touring at the time, so he would have been regularly available. 

The Jefferson Starship, of course, and risen from the ashes of the Jefferson Airplane, and were on their way to selling even more records than the Airplane had done. When Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen refused to leave Hot Tuna to return to the Airplane, Paul Kantner organized the Jefferson Starship as a touring entity in early 1974. After some live success, the Starship released the well-received Dragon Fly album in September, 1974. It got excellent FM airplay and sold very well, going Gold and reaching #11 on the Billboard album charts. The Jefferson Starship emphasized the harmonies and sharp songwritng side of the Airplane, rather than their looser, rebellious edge. In anticipation of their subsequent album, Red Octopus, Marty Balin had returned to the aircraft, and in May they had released his song "Miracles," which was a huge AM hit. "Miracles" peaked at #3, higher than any Jefferson Airplane single. Red Octopus was going to be released in June, and it was going to be huge.

By mid-decade, financial realities had moved the Jefferson Starship towards mainstream rock and away from psychedelic rabble rousing. In the late 60s, riding high, the Airplane had struck a deal with RCA for their own label imprint (Grunt Records) and an unlimited recording budget at Wally Heider's studio in San Francisco. Of course, the cost of that recording was paid out of future Airplane royalties. Paul Kantner and others took to recording at Heider's rather than touring, and the recording often included Jerry Garcia, David Crosby, Graham Nash and other members of the San Francisco rock scene. When members of the Airplane and their friends recorded at Heider's it appears that they got paid session fees as well, so the so-called PERRO sessions gave everyone walking-around cash, always welcome for musicians.

As the Airplane faded, Paul Kantner and Grace Slick had put out a series of solo-type albums, some under the name Jefferson Starship. Garcia and Betty Cantor were heavily involved. By the fourth of these however, sales had dropped off considerably (the albums were Blows Against The Empire, Sunfighter, Manhole and Baron Von Tollbooth & The Chrome Nun) and royalties no longer adequately funded the excess. The Jefferson Starship went on tour in Spring 1974, with young guitarist Craig Chacuiqo and Jorma's brother Peter Kaukonen on bass. Peter Kaukonen was replaced by Pete Sears (doubling on keyboards and bass with David Freiberg), and the band had released Dragon Fly to great acclaim. Marty Balin rejoined the band and the Starship took flight.

Nonetheless, socially the Jefferson Starship were still good friends with the Grateful Dead, not the least because they were among the last organizations still standing from the old Fillmore days. After all, Dragon Fly had included a song by Robert Hunter, saxman Stephen Schuster worked with both Jefferson Starship and the Godchauxs, most Starship members still lived in Marin, all but one of the current members had at least played the Fillmores, if not with the Airplane, and Alembic still consulted with them on sound and equipment. However, the most important connection was even older than that. At some point, I think by about early 1975, the Jefferson Starship had hired one Owsley Stanley as their soundman.

Now, the Starship did not have a permanent touring operation, like the Grateful Dead, so Owsley would have been hired per tour. However, once the Dead had stopped touring at the end of 1974, Owsley would have no longer been on the Dead's payroll. In any case, Owsley had not had a specific role in the Dead's touring scheme, as his time in jail (1970-72) had allowed for Alembic and Dan Healy to take over the sound and crew. So while outwardly the Jefferson Starship had swung towards a more commercial sound, they still had the retired Acid King himself as their soundman, so psychedelic rebellion was never out of the question.

With a big hit single and a hugely anticipated album coming out in June, the Jefferson Starship had been touring nationally for Red Octopus.  The Starship headlined two shows at Winterland on May 16 and 17, 1975. The Sons Of Champlin, also old Marin friends, were invited to open the shows, and just to give it the old Fillmore flavor, the Starship also invited Mickey Hart's percussion orchestra. The unheard and unprecedented ensemble hearkened back to the mixed bills of the old Fillmore, when a Russian poet once opened for the Jefferson Airplane (Apr 7 '66). The Starship were going for the gold ring, yes, but they were still doing it in San Francisco style. The Sons Of Champlin and The Grateful Dead were just about the only intact bands from the old Fillmore days, so along with the Airplane crew, it was as close as they could get to Old-Timers Day.

Marx Meadows in relation to other famous parts of Golden Gate Park
Live From Marx Meadows
Since the Jefferson Starship were still a proud San Francisco band, mainstream or not, they were going to go about things Fillmore-style. By all accounts, their headline shows at Winterland came off well, and I believe the Diga Rhythm Band got good notices too, even if they were hard to fit into a slot. At the time, there was no public concept of the idea of "World Music," although of course musicians were aware of it, and an intercultural percussion ensemble was unheard of. So the booking of the Diga Rhythm Band was an enjoyably weird thing for the newly-commercial Jefferson Starship, and a definite whiff of the old days.

There is a circulating tape from Winterland, misdated as May 25, although it must be May 16 or May 17. The tape is 40 minutes long, and seems only slightly cut off at the beginning. 45 minutes would be about right for the opening act at Winterland in those days. Diga plays two long numbers, "Tal Mala" and "Magnificent Sevens." Between numbers, Zakir Hussain introduces the band. He tells the crowd that the first number was by Mickey Hart, and "you know him as the drummer from the Grateful Dead," to a big roar from the crowd.
Diga Rhythm Band, May 1975
Zakir Hussain-tabla
Mickey Hart-trap drums
Jordan Aramantha-congas
Jim Loveless-marimbas
Ray Speigel-vibes
Arshad Syad-duggi ("imported specially from India")
"Ali Akbar College of Music sub-line" (Zakir says "behind us," presumably referring to additional drummers providing a basic pulse) 
The Starship national tour had started in May, but to end this leg the band decided to play a free concert in Golden Gate Park. The Starship had played a similar free concert in Central Park in New York City's Central Park back on May 12 (broadcast on WNEW-fm). These free shows were definitely a nod to the olden days. The San Francisco show was no stealth arrangement, and was approved and booked with the city for Friday, May 30. The Starship could not have admitted the show prior to playing the Winterland bookings--Bill Graham wouldn't have allowed the publicity--but once the weekend was over it was no secret. So much so, that the concert was noted in the Stanford Daily performer listings for the day (see the clip up top). It is a sign of the status of the Jefferson Starship that though they had a hit single on the charts ("Miracles") and were a descendant of San Francisco legends, they could still actually publicize a free show in Golden Gate Park and not overwhelm it. Admittedly, it was a Friday, not a weekend, but the Starship were not going to get mobbed.

When you google around, some notes put the free show in Marx Meadows, and others in Speedway Meadows (now called Hellman Hollow), but I found an eyewitness who confirmed that it was Marx Meadows. The previous Garcia free show in Golden Gate Park, with Merl Saunders, had been in Marx Meadows (Sep 2 '74 with Garcia/Saunders), and the Grateful Dead would play a free show in Speedway Meadows on September 28 '75. However, my recollection of the September Dead show was that the Jefferson Starship had openly booked a show for Speedway Meadows with themselves and "other bands", and the Dead were essentially snuck in. I think the May show was booked, and went successfully, so the Starship could say with a straight face "we will have other bands" and the city just figured it would be the Sons or something. So, in that respect, the mainstream Starship still had some old Airplane rabble-rousing left in them.

The Diga album, released on Round Records in March 1976
Diga Rhythm Band Live
I'm not sure what time the concert started, presumably around noon or something, which is pretty early for most musicians. Diga Rhythm Band opened the show. The tape seems complete, and including stage announcements, it is 33 minutes long. The group is introduced somewhat tentatively as "The Diga Rhythm Band." Zakir Hussain tells the crowd that they are all musicians from the Indian Music college,  The Ali Akbar School Of Music in Marin, and "they play music all night and day." He explains that the Diga Rhythm Band is "The Rhythm Band Of The World." Remember, at this time, there was no term like "World Music," even though a few groups like Kaleidoscope and Shanti had done such things.

Rather uniquely, Zakir Hussain then introduces all the drums on stage, like the trap drums (which he calls "The American Drum"), and the congas from Cuba and Africa, and so on, but he does not introduce the actual band members. The group then plays a 13-minute piece, apparently called "Sweet Sixteen" that seems to have a certain basic structure but appears to include plenty of improvisation, as well. Then, Zakir announces that they have a few friends who will join them for the next number. The subsequent roar leaves no doubt as to who one of those friends is (punctuated by people shouting "Jerry!!!" of course). Although he is not announced, and it is hard to be certain from the audience tape, my eyewitness confirmed that David Freiberg played bass along with Jerry. In any case, Jerelyn Brandelius published a photo with Freiberg on bass with Diga from Golden Gate Park [update: Commenter ruppi43 points out that Garcia can be seen in the linked photo]. I'm not aware of a photo of Jerry on stage with Diga [update: Commenter ruppi43 links to a Ron Draper photo of Jerry on stage, playing the Wolf] , although there may be one of him waiting to go on stage. Also, the Grateful Dead Archive has a photo of some members of the Sons of Champlin "backstage" at Golden Gate Park in 1975, and I suspect that it is from May 30, as well.

Zakir Hussain then announces that the next composition is called "The Fire On The Mountain." Diga, Jerry and Freiberg launch into a percussionized version of the "Fire On The Mountain" theme that we are all familiar with, and then launch into a lengthy jam that is loosely based on the rhythms, but there is no singing nor anything resembling a verse structure. At the end, after about 15 minutes, the group comes back for a reprise of the theme, and then they end the song. Zakir Hussain thanks the crowd and says, "The Sons Of Champlin will be coming on shortly."

It's important to remember that while Garcia loved to play, and had more time on his hands during 1975 than any other year in his Grateful Dead career, he did not like to "hang out," nor did he like casual jamming on inferior or borrowed equipment. Any Jerry Garcia appearance in 1975 was planned, even if only Jerry and a roadie knew of that plan. So here are some facts to consider:
  • Garcia was in town. While Garcia was playing around with his own band, he wasn't playing with the Dead, of course, so he was far more likely to look for opportunities to sit in with other bands
  • Whether or not Garcia had played with The Tal Vydum Rhythm Band--probably not--he had jammed with Hart and Zakir Hussain at Hart's barn, so he was comfortable with that style of music
  • David Freiberg was present with the Starship, and his equipment would have been on stage. Freiberg had played with Garcia many times, so he was no untried stranger who couldn't handle the curveballs.
  • If Hart was bringing equipment over, Garcia's amp could be put on the truck as well. This too would have been no small thing to Garcia, who wouldn't have wanted to play difficult music on some borrowed Fender that he hadn't broken in.
Mickey Hart and Robert Hunter had written "Fire On The Mountain" back around 1972, and the song was intended to be the title track to Hart's second solo album. Warner Brothers rejected the album in 1973, not least because the Dead had not re-signed with Warners, so the label had no desire to release what they would have considered a money-losing vanity album by their former clients' former drummer. So the song was known to Garcia and Hart, but not to anyone but the most connected Deadheads.

The album Diga, by the Diga Rhythm Band, was released on Round Records in March of 1976. Recording had probably begun by Spring 1975, but any chance to complete and release the album was delayed until the next year, as Round Records had one of their perpetual cash crises. One of the tracks is titled "Happiness Is Drumming," and it appears to be the basic pattern of "Fire On The Mountain," with Garcia on guitar. So Hart, Garcia and Diga may have already been working on this. On the album, the composition is credited to Diga Rhythm Band, rather than Hart. Since there was no singing, Hunter did not need to credited. Still, Zakir Hussain's mention of the song title would have been it's first public usage.

Owsley Stanley, after being busted in Orinda, CA on December 23, 1967. This SF Chronicle photo was one of the few photos of Owsley that were published in the 20th century
The final question is whether Owsley was the soundman. I don't know when Owsley was hired by the Starship, but I think it was definitely by Spring '75, and possibly the Fall before that. If the Starship were going to play in Golden Gate Park, they were going to try out their setup, so they would want their regular touring soundman. So I think he was there. That doesn't mean that Dan Healy or Betty Cantor wasn't on the board for Diga instead, and maybe I am thinking wishfully, but it's a worthwhile consideration. If anyone went to the show and recalls who was on the board, please let us know in the Comments.

I think Owsley's presence would have been significant. Garcia liked to jam with other musicians, and just be part of the band, but by 1975 he only wanted to do it in controlled, professional situations. The Sons Of Champlin might have brought their own soundman, but who would Diga have used? Owsley sure seems like a likely choice, since he would have been there with Starship. Owsley also seems like someone who would have directly invited or indirectly enticed Garcia to play with Diga, since he could guarantee the sound in his own inimitable fashion.

If Owsley did mix Jerry with Diga on May 30, 1975, it was the last go-round. I don't know who mixed the sound for the Speedway Meadows Dead set on September 28, but it wouldn't have been Owsley. Owsley was probably mixing the sound for the Starship set in September, but Dan Healy and the rest of the crew had their issues with Owsley and would have actively insured that his hands were not on the board for the Dead's set. So it may be that a largely forgotten Garcia appearance in Golden Gate Park in someone else's band was the the formal end of the musical partnership between two giants of late century psychedelia.

Appendix 1: Diga Rhythm Band album


Diga Rhythm Band

Initial release : March 1976
Round Records RX 110 / RX-LA600-G
Percussion based album from Mickey Hart and friends. Garcia plays guitar on two tracks.
  • Sweet Sixteen (Diga Rhythm Band)
  • Magnificent Sevens (Diga Rhythm Band)
  • Happiness Is Drumming (Diga Rhythm Band)
  • Razooli (Diga Rhythm Band)
  • Tal Mala (Diga Rhythm Band)
Diga Rhythm Band;
  • Jordan Amarantha - congas, bongos
  • Peter Carmichael - tabla
  • Aushim Chaudhuri - tabla
  • Vince Delgado - dumbek, tabla, talking drum
  • Tor Dietrichson - tabla
  • Mickey Hart - traps, gongs, timbales, tympani
  • Zakir Hussain - tabla, folk drums, tar
  • Jim Loveless - marimbas
  • Joy Shulman - tabla
  • Ray Spiegel - vibes
  • Arshad Syed - duggi tarang, nal
  • Jerry Garcia - guitar (on Razooli and Happiness Is Drumming)
  • Jim McPherson - vocals (on Razooli)
  • Kathy McDonald - vocals (on Razooli)
  • David Freiberg - vocals (on Razooli)

  • Produced by Mickey Hart
  • Associate producer - Vince Delgado
  • Production assistant and arranging associate - Zakir Hussain
  • Engineers - Dan Healy, Bill Wolf, Betty Cantor
  • Assistant engineer - Brett Cohen
  • Recorded at the Barn, Novato
  • Remixed in 1988 :
  • Engineer (1988) - Tom Flye
  • Assistant engineer (1988) - Tom Size
  • Digital mastering (1988) - Joe Glaswirt
  • Cover art - Jordan De La Sierra
  • Package design - Steven Jurgensmeyer
  • Photograph - Onehart
  • Liner notes - Frederic Lieberman
The Winter 1976 Round Records newsletter provided a history of the Diga Rhythm Band.
In 1968 Mickey Hart was studying at the Ali Akbar College of Music with Tabla Master Shankar Gosh. Mickey would work on compositions with Shankar which included Rhythmic Cycles of 4, 6, 16, 5 & 7 and take these teachings to Bill Kreutzmann. Mickey and Bill were instructing Shankar on traps in exchange for Tabla lessons and would combine their knowledge in compositions of East and West.
In September of 1968 the Grateful Dead played a concert at Berkeley Community Theater. Before the concert the drummers had planned a surprise for the audience. During part of "Alligator", the G. D. amps rolled apart and two risers rolled on stage between Mickey and Bill. On them were Shankar Gosh and Vince Delgado, a fine dumbec player and a student of Shankar's. The four men sat and fixed compositions together, taking a rhythmic journey through many "Tals" or time cycles. Ali Akbar Kahn composed the closing composition for them and when they were finished, the applause was deafening. Shankar left Ali Akbar College in 1969 and returned to India, at this time Mickey also left to pursue electronic music.
In 1970 Mickey was introduced to Zakir Hussain, son of Mickey's mentor, Alla Rakha. Mickey met Alla Rakha in 1967 and had given himself over to the teachings of Indian rhythms during their first meeting. He subsequently became Shankar's student in California. Zakir had come from India to replace Shankar as Ali Akbar's personal drummer as Tabla instructor for the school. Quite a job for a man of 21, but Zakir had been studying since 8 years of age, he came well prepared.
In 1971 Zakir began to select some of his advance students for a school orchestra of only rhythm instruments. This was called Tal Vadyum Rhythm Band and they performed once a quarter at the Ali Akbar Kahn Collect of Music. This was the beginning of the Diga Band. In April, 1975 the Jefferson Starship asked them to play a concert with them and the Sons of Champlin. The band decided to play and also to change their name for public performance. The name chosen was Diga Rhythm Band. The concerts at Winterland in San Francisco on May 16 & 17, 1975 were successful, Alla Rakha was there both nights and was very pleased. Bill Graham was elated and the musicians from the other groups were very receptive to the music.
Diga is currently recording an album for Round Records, to be distributed by United Artists, in April. The band also plans to tour maybe in the Spring of '76.
Appendix 2: Jefferson Starship circa 1975
Grace Slick-vocals
Marty Balin-vocals
Craig Chaquico-lead guitar
Paul Kantner-rhythm guitar, vocals
Papa John Creach-electric violin
David Freiberg-keyboards, bass, vocals
Pete Sears-bass, keyboards
John Barbata-drums

Fillmore notes:
  • Slick, Balin and Kantner had played the original Fillmore and both Fillmores West and East with the Jefferson Airplane
  • Papa John Creach had played Fillmores West and East with Hot Tuna
  • David Freiberg had played all the Fillmores with Quicksilver Messenger Service
  • John Barbata had played the Fillmore with the Turtles, and Fillmore East with CSNY (June 2-7 '70)
  • Pete Sears had played Fillmore West with Silver Metre (May 28-31 and July 9-12 '70)
  • Craig Chacuiqo, the youngest member of Starship, had never played the Fillmores
Here is the setlist for the Starship's free concert in Central Park earlier in May. The Golden Gate Park set was probably similar.
May 12 1975 Central Park, New York, NY: Jefferson Starship (WNEW-fm broadcast)
Ride the Tiger, Fast Buck Freddie, The Witcher, Devil's Den, Caroline, Driving Me Crazy, Papa John's Down Home Blues, Play on Love, Better Lying Down, Have You Seen the Saucers, Come to Life, Sweeter than Honey incl. drum solo, Somebody to Love, White Rabbit, Volunteers