Sunday, April 3, 2016

Winterland 3/18-20/77

1977 was one of several career high points for the Grateful Dead, characterized by consistently strong playing, along with the introduction of several of their most challenging and enduring original compositions. While praise has been heaped on the band’s May 8th outing at Cornell University’s Barton Hall, for me that year will always be about two venues – Winterland and the relatively off-the-beaten track Chick Evans Field House at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.
The Dead played Winterland more times in 1977 than any other year, with ten shows beating out the eight in 1974 and six in both 1972 and 1978. I’m both proud and embarrassed to say I went to all of the 1977 Winterland shows, despite relocating to Chicago for graduate school in the fall of that year.

Their first show of that impressive run, on Friday, March 18th, essentially introduced yet another manifestation of the band to the old skating rink. The show started pretty conventionally, with a bunch of familiar songs like “Promised Land” and “It’s All Over Now.” What was different was the intensity of the band’s playing. When the Dead returned from hiatus the previous summer, their tempos had been relatively languid, the jams generally concise, and the playing more focused than inspired – kind of a chamber ensemble incarnation of the fire breathing beast of a few years earlier.  During the latter part of 1976, as the musicians regained comfort and confidence, their energy levels began to ramp up and they began to take more chances with the pathways they charted between songs.  

A mid-set highlight was “Sugaree.” When the song emerged mid-1971, it ran a relatively brief six minutes and change. Sugaree’s duration had gradually expanded over the years but, that night at Winterland, it emerged as a full-blown showcase for Garcia’s extravagant soloing, clocking in at nearly a quarter hour, with Lesh clearly egging the guitarist to pile one soloed chorus atop another. Besides just being long, the song was deftly orchestrated, steadily building in intensity before coming back to earth on the final line. The set concluded with what by now was a fairly standard piece of the repertoire, “Scarlet Begonias” which led through a long coda with wordless vocalizations by Donna into something new – a shuffling groove shifting between B and E chords that evolved into the first live Grateful Dead version of “Fire on the Mountain.” However, this wasn’t exactly the song’s debut. Mickey Hart and Robert Hunter penned the tune some in the early 1970s and Hart recorded a few versions of the tune for several unreleased albums between 1972 and 1974. It was to be the title tune of his second solo album, which was rejected by Warner Brothers. A bit later, on 5/30/75, Jerry Garcia and David Freiberg joined Mickey Hart’s Diga Rhythm band in Golden Gate Park for a beautiful instrumental version of the song. Although it appeared on the sole Diga album as “Happiness is Drumming,” it was clearly introduced by Diga percussionist  Zakir Hussain as “Fire On the Mountain”.  The Winterland debut of the song, now sung by Garcia, was a scorcher, with Garcia really letting loose with the now-signature power wah from his Mutron effects pedal. Quite a way to wrap up an outstanding first set.  As I ventured out into Winterland’s lobby during the break, a girl nearby was joyfully singing the new song’s chorus.

The meat of the show was in the second set, which opened conventionally with energetic versions of “Samson and Delilah,” “Brown-Eyed Women,” and “Ship of Fools,” which was delivered at a much brisker tempo than usual. Next came the hometown debut of the band’s other two new songs.  This was long before the advent of online songlists, not to mention streaming, but one moderately timely pipeline to information on the Dead was a column in the monthly free music paper BAM, which featured a regular column entitled “Dead Ahead” that was penned by various authors, but mainly by future GD Hour Host and Dead scholar David Gans. In what I believe would have been the March iteration of the column, Gans described the band’s two new songs, which had first been played at a pair of concerts down south, the first in San Bernadino on Feb. 26 followed by a show at UC Santa Barbara the following night. Gans intimated that these songs, particularly the magnum opus “Terrapin Station” were something special, and boy was he right.

“Estimated Prophet,” a Weir-Barlow collaboration, featured a reggae beat and lyrics that recounted what must have been a common occurrence for Weir – a meeting with a drug casualty with a Messiah complex. At that time, Weir had an ornery affection for  the 7/4 time signature (some would say 7/8), a counterintuitive meter that was earlier used in his“Lazy Lightning” and even earlier in the rarely performed Dead instrumental workout that has been accurately and informally dubbed “The Seven.” Estimated Prophet” features slow, slightly ominous sounding verses and a soaring chorus that portrays California as the narrator’s promised land. All in all, somewhat of a musical mongrel, but one that is both haunting and surprisingly danceable.

So much has been written about “Terrapin Station” that I can’t add much here. Robert Hunter’s brilliant epic poem may have been severely edited by Garcia, but it was still arguably the most complex and lengthy song (as opposed to an open-ended improvisational vehicle like “Dark Star”) that the band ever performed. Unlike that tune and much of the Dead’s jammed-out repertoire, “Terrapin Station” is composed fairly literally, and did not vary much in instrumental structure from performance to performance. However, it did move through several distinct phases, both lyrically and instrumentally, starting with the familiar folk tale of the soldier, the sailor, and the lady with a fan, and then moving somewhat abruptly into the land of Terrapin, where a headlong train seems headed for the same dire fate that befell Casey Jones.

Hunter’s narrative went well beyond the portion that the Dead performed, and the song’s Winterland debut was unique in the band’s performance history in including an extended instrumental coda that appeared, with lyrics and all kinds of baroque embellishments, on the studio version of the tune on the Terrapin Station album later that year. This section, which apparently was dubbed “Alhambra” by one of the audience tapers of the era, was a brief but exquisite instrumental rendition of the portion of the Terrapin suite that appeared on the album as “At a Siding.” Without the lyrics and dominated by some lovely slide guitar from Garcia, this brief interlude was one of the high points of the second set. In their frequently contrary fashion, the band for some reason elected to never play this section again. I’m just guessing, but it may have been a dynamic consideration – to end the tune with a bang (as they did on the 3/20 encore version) rather than fading into the more intimate “At a Siding-Alhambra” passage.

A brief drumfest ensued, and led into another show highlight. Generally the sets of “show highlights” and versions of “Not Fade Away” do not overlap, particularly in later years where it became a signal to end the second set. However, in this version, the longest of 1977 at nearly 20 minutes, the length was equaled by the quality of the playing, particularly from Mr. Garcia.  As the drum duel ended, the two drummers shifted into the Bo Diddley beat for awhile before the rest of the band chimed in. With Phil playing driving things with some aggressive octaves, the rest of the band noodled somewhat placidly in E for the first six minutes or so before breaking into the two verses. With the vocals out of the way, Jerry really got down to business around the 9 minute mark, soloing first with some kind of overdrive for a couple of minutes and then dropping back around 10:30 while the drummers laid down some off-beat thumps and then switching to some other distortion effect for some more furious soloing around the 12 minute mark, playing behind and in front of the beat, with the drummers, Phil and Keith all in synch. Power chord and percussion pandemonium ensues around 14 minutes before everyone falls back into the Bo Diddley beat for the long, mellow vocal denouement.

After the vocals, the volume dropped way down, and the band moved stealthily into the opening bars of a gorgeous rendition of “St. Stephen.” At the band’s previous gig in Santa Barbara, they broke with recent tradition by playing the original arrangement of the St. Stephen bridge, but the revised, waltz time version was back for the Winterland shows. As the final line of “Stephen” crashed to a close, the drummers were starting back into a “NFA” reprise, but Weir took command, instead driving the train straight into “Around and Around,” a tune which was, all too often, relatively rote in its delivery.  In this case, though, the energy of the rest of the set carried over into what was arguably one of the most energetic versions of this tune on record. Garcia was MVP again, starting with some Chuck Berry inspired licks between verses, and then stretching out further on both sides of the modulation preceding the the final verse and then driving Keith and Phil to a power chord embellished frenzy before and during the vocal passage, ending the tune with an extended orgasmic instrumental release.

For the sole encore, the band brought things back down to earth with a soulful version of “Uncle John’s Band,” which nonetheless contained some energetic instrumental thrashing prior to the acapella bridge. A fine way to wrap up what remains what I consider one I consider one of the best Dead shows I ever attended.

The remaining two nights of the March run were fine, and I know at least one of my colleagues actually prefers the next night, which included a long first set medley of “Terrapin”>Playing in the Band”>”Samson and Delilah”>Playing in the Band” and it is hard to beat the perfiously mentioned run-closing “Terrapin” encore on Sunday. This was a weekend full of repeats. Besides “Terrapin” and “Estimated” being played all three nights, “St. Stephen,” “Uncle John’s Band,” “Peggy-O,” “Cassidy,” “Promised Land,” “Around and Around,” and “Samson and Delilah” were each played twice, and “Scarlet” returned to end the first set on Sunday without being paired with “Fire on the Mountain.” The level of musicianship and audience engagement was consistently strong all three nights, so you really can’t go wrong with any of the three shows, which set the tone for the remainder of the remarkable year that followed.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Grateful Dead – May to August, 1971

I'm sorry it’s been so long since I have written anything here – hopefully posts will become more regular now.  For this and a few subsequent contributions, I will turn my attention to several Grateful Dead shows that I attended within a given calendar year where I did not take any photographs, starting with 1971. When I graduated from high school, I no longer had regular access to a darkroom for some time, which served to limit, but not completely curtail, my taking pictures at shows.

Winterland 5/30/71. As noted in an earlier post, the Dead show scheduled for Friday 5/28/71 was postponed two days because of Garcia’s illness. He was well enough to play the next night, a show I did not attend, but lives in some infamy as the night scores of audience members were unwittingly and heavily dosed by electric Kool-Aid. Given the ruckus that this caused on the streets of San Francisco after the show, I was not too sorry to miss this one.

There was no Kool-Aid in evidence the following night, which comprised a long show starting with Bay Area folk-rock ensemble RJ Fox, followed by the New Riders and the Dead. James and the Good Brothers, who were advertised as opening the shows, did not perform on the 30th.

The Dead’s two sets were characteristic of the band’s consistently high level of playing in that era, peppered liberally with the new tunes (“Bertha”, “Playing in the Band”, “Loser”, “Deal”) that they had rolled out in early 1971.  Other highlights were a rare first set “Morning Dew” and the west coast debut of the band’s electric revival of Pig’s playful rendition of Lightning Hopkins’ “The Rub.” The one thing this show lacked was an extended improvisational segment, with the second set jam consisting of a fairly standard “Truckin” that led right into a “Lovelight” that featured a memorably raunchy rap from McKernan. The show wrapped up with a nice pairing  of “Uncle John’s Band” and “Casey Jones,” followed by an encore of “Johnny B. Goode.”The second set of this show was given an official release on vinyl by Grateful Dead Records in 2012.

Fillmore West 7/2/71. In late Spring 1971, Bill Graham announced plans to close down both the Fillmores East and West. For the last hurrah of the San Francisco ballroom, Graham scheduled a week’s worth of shows featuring many of the musicians that put San Francisco on the musical map in the late 1960s. When KSAN announced their plans to broadcast all of the concerts, I chose to stay home and tape the shows off of the radio. As it turned out, most of the shows that week were relatively disappointing, with groups like Quicksilver Messenger Service, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and It’s a Beautiful Day having lost much of the magic of their glory days a few years (or in Creedence’s case, only a few months) earlier.  The notable exceptions were a sizzling Sunday night set by Santana (for which the band chose not to allow a broadcast), and a dazzling evening of music on Friday night that saw Jerry Garcia onstage for at least six hours with three different bands.

Opening the show were the Rowan Brothers, Chris and Lorin, who had recently moved from the east coast to Marin, and were in the process of recording their debut album for Columbia. For the Fillmore set, the duo were augmented by a group of heavy hitters comprising Garcia on pedal steel, Phil Lesh on Bass, David Grisman on mandolin, and Bill Kreutzmann on drums. Their brief set fit right in with the evening’s laid back country-rock vibe. For those interested, the bulk of the 7/2/71 Rowans set is available on the duo’s fine 2004 double CD Now and Then.

By this time, the New Riders had toured almost constantly with the Dead for over a year. Although Garcia’s days in the pedal steel chair were numbered, his command of the instrument was at its peak, and these mid to late 1971 NRPS sets were some of the band’s best, mixing material from their as-yet unreleased 1st LP with great covers like “Down in the Boondocks,” “Lodi,” and “Six Days on the Road.”

Although the band only had two songs in the Last Days of Fillmore movie, their entire set was widely circulated in trading circles and through a number of early bootleg records. The band was in exceptionally fine form that evening and, although their set was fairly standard for the era, it included a number of memorable moments, including the ferocious “Bertha” opener, a stand-alone version of “That’s It For the Other One” dedicated by Phil Lesh to Owlsley Stanley, and, as a final encore, a version of “Johnny B. Goode” for the ages introduced by Garcia as “Here’s the one it’s all about.” All in all, a really fine way to bid farewell to the venerable old ballroom where the Dead played so many gigs.

8/14/71 Berkeley Community Theater. Up to these shows, I had only seen the Dead in Bill Graham’s grungy ballrooms, so it was a bit unsettling to see them in this relatively genteel concert hall across the bay. At 3500 seats, the BCT could hold more people than the Fillmore West but far fewer than Winterland, and its configuration, a wide concert hall wide rows of reserved seats and a spacious balcony, made it seem much more intimate and upscale. As was true with most 1971 shows, the New Riders opened with a generous set including both “Garden of Eden” and “Superman,” the two tunes that comprised the original 1969 demo by the proto-New Riders, then going by the moniker Marmaduke and Friends. As was often the case, the Riders set wrapped up with their plaintive cover of the Band tune, “The Weight” with Garcia chiming in on vocals for the last line of the chorus.

The Dead’s set featured two of songs that were new as of the summer tour - Garcia’s “Sugaree” and Pig’s “Mr. Charlie,” both collaborations with lyricist Robert Hunter.  In its early incarnations, “Sugaree” weighed in at a perfunctory 6 minutes, although it soon thereafter became a vehicle for Garcia’s extended soloing.  The rest of the show was relatively standard for that era. One unusual fashion note was that Bob Weir was wearing a tie-dyed tank top very similar to the one he sported in the closing of the Fillmore movie. Another mystery that I couldn’t solve until decades later was the presence of a guest keyboard player who, starting with the Truckin’/The  Other One jam,” shared the bench with Pigpen and played some decidedly more adventurous organ lines than what we had come to expect from Mr. McKernan. The rangy, long haired keyboardist’s identity came to light when Ned Lagin revealed his secret history of sitting in with the Dead in the 1970s (for full details, see Ihor Slabicky’s exhaustive web archive, Nedbase).  The jam itself is distinctive, with a powerful drum solo bridging the two tunes and a beautiful extended jam that departs far from the home base of “The Other One,” led by some particularly assertive bass and lyrical Garcia guitar extrapolations before circling back to the main theme. The show concluded with a chorus of “Happy Birthday” directed at band colleague David Crosby, followed by a double encore of “Johnny B. Goode” and “Uncle John’s Band.”

The Fall of 1971 saw some dramatic changes, with McKernan going on sick leave and replaced on the fall tour by new keyboardist Keith Godchaux, and Garcia-Hunter and even Weir coming up with a strong batch of new songs. I already wrote about the single show I saw with this lineup (11/7/71 at the Harding Theater). Pigpen returned to the fold for a December tour, and I will get to the last show I saw that year, New Year’s at Winterland, in due time.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Remembering B.B. King

B.B. King - Foothill College Gymnasium February 21, 1971
B. B. King and Jeff Beck - Arie Crown Theatre, Chicago 7/26/03

With B.B. King’s recent, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the two times I saw him play the blues. The first time I saw King was on a Sunday night in 1971 (Thanks to Lost Live Dead and JGMF for providing the correct date) at a venue not known for concerts, not to mention as being an ideal setting to hear  one of the world’s finest blues guitarists. Located in Los Altos Hills, a high-priced mid-peninsula zip code even at that early date, Foothill College was, and remains, one of the premier Community Colleges in the country, and somewhat of an architectural treasure to boot. Located atop a hill that is now directly adjacent to Highway 280 (which was built along its current right-of-way well after Foothill opened in 1965), the campus remains a masterpiece of mid-century architecture, with new additions blending seamlessly with the original buildings.

Although B.B. King was a regular visitor to the ballrooms in San Francisco, his appearance on a suburban college campus reflected the more widespread commercial success afforded by his two most recent albums, Completely Well (which included what was to become one of his signature tunes, “The Thrill is Gone”), and the more rock oriented Indianola Mississippi Seeds. That album,  produced by Bill Scymczyk (soon to become the preferred producer for the Eagles), was a successful attempt to make King more familiar to mainstream rock audiences. Scymczyk used Los Angeles session musicians rather than King’s band, and  paired the guitarist with mainstream rockers like Leon Russell and Joe Walsh.  At the time, Foothill did not book a lot of rock or blues shows, at least that I was aware of, but it gave me a rare chance to see a blues legend not too far from home. Foothill has a fine theatre, but I suspect that booking economics led to this show being held in the college gymnasium, as was the case for so many university gigs before events and performing arts centers became more commonplace later in the century.  We got reasonable seats (I think it was general admission) and, perhaps because it was a Sunday night, there was no opening act.

As was de rigueur  for King’s shows of the era, the concert began with a few instrumentals from his band. In striking contrast to most rock bands of that era, King’s group was decked out in matching slacks, blazers, and turtlenecks.
B.B. King and Band - Foothill College Gymnasium 2/21/71
 Photo: M. Parrish
 The band was tight, and capably performed their task of warming up the crowd for their boss. King came out and, if memory serves, he opened his set in customary fashion with “Every Day I Have the Blues.” King, dressed in a sharp cream colored suit, took command of the stage immediately. What made King such an icon among the blues performers of his era was his uncanny combination of skills – a master showman, an eloquent vocalist, and a remarkable player with an eloquent,  immediately recognizable instrumental voice. There have been many guitarists who played faster, indulged in more complicated chord progressions, or played louder, but what made King’s guitar sound so memorable was the emotion he squeezed out of every note. He had very strong hands, and could bend strings to elevate the notes played a whole step or more. Although this technique has become almost universal among blues-rock players, King, along with contemporaries like Albert King, Albert Collins, and Muddy Waters basically pioneered this style in the 1950s, and no one used it more effectively to wring emotion out of their solos. He also perfected the use of vibrato, something that was common among slide and steel guitarists but relatively rare among lead guitarists. King used these techniques individually or in tandem to generate his immensely appealing playing style.
B.B. King and Band - Foothill College Gymnasium 2/21/71
Photo M. Parrish

Equally important to both King’s music and his stage persona was his singing style. A smooth, engaging vocalist, King drew the audience in with his smooth baritone, and he blended humor and drama in his powerful vocal delivery. An imposing physical presence, King often used body language to appear larger than life and to lessen the barrier between him and the audience.

For King and his band, I suspect the Foothill gig was just another date on a long string of one nighters, but it left a lasting impression on me, as well as revealing where young white players like Michael Bloomfield and Harvey Mandel got inspiration and necessary parts of their instrumental took kits.

For whatever reason, I did not see King in concert again until 2003, when I reviewed a show at Chicago’s Arie Crown theatre featuring him and Jeff Beck for the Chicago Tribune. By this time, years of touring and advancing diabetes kept King confined to a chair for most of his set. He talked a lot between songs, let the band do a lot of the heavy lifting, but his playing sounded just fine. The contrast between Beck’s aggressive jazz-rock playing and King’s relatively laid-back, extroverted blues was striking, and the combination didn’t really jell as well as one might hope. Nonetheless, it was a fine evening of music, and I am glad that I got to see BB one more time.

King’s passing leaves yet another huge gap in the roster of the original artists who pioneered electric blues guitar in the 1950s. Although he spent his last few weeks under Hospice care, King toured tirelessly  until then, and he passed just a few months shy of his 90th birthday.

Monday, September 1, 2014

UCSC 1971, The Rhythm Dukes, and Oganookie

In the fall of 1971, I entered college at UC Santa Cruz. Although only an hour from home, Santa Cruz might as well have been a different planet. Much less populated and pretty much graffiti-free in 1971, the town nonetheless already had the funky, slightly shabby, beach town ambiance it retains today.

The campus, only six years old when I entered, was tiny compared to its present size, with only five functional colleges, with the original four clustered together at the top of the hill, and the arts based College Five set widely apart, near the exit of the perimeter road to Empire Grade.  I chose UCSC over the other UCs because of its academic excellence, small size, unique residential college organization, and because of the haunting beauty of the forests and meadows of its campus, set on a hill overlooking the town of Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay.  A friend’s father was one of the main UCSC architects, so I had visited the campus on numerous occasions when it was under construction.

What Santa Cruz was not known for at that time was a music scene. There were really no viable live music venues in Santa Cruz proper, and the relatively small population did not support too many local bands.  The biggest venue, the Santa Cruz Civic, was essentially off limits for rock concerts when I first arrived in Santa Cruz , although they did start permitting shows there by 1973. There were clubs in the Santa Cruz Mountains like the fabled Club Zayante and the even more storied Chateau Liberte, but there were few if any options in the city itself.  The original Catalyst was still in existence on Front Street, but it seemed to be more of a coffee house than a music venue at that juncture, prior to its purchase in 1973  by Randall Kane and move to larger quarters on Pacific Avenue where it emerged as the town’s flagship rock venue.

My principal knowledge of Santa Cruz musicians prior to arriving on campus in the fall of 1971 was the fact that Moby Grape, one of the best and most mercurial of the San Francisco Bands, had just recorded an album there, the marvelous and underrated 20 Granite Creek.  The Grape’s travails have been documented at length elsewhere, but in 1971 the original members got together in a rambling house in Santa Cruz to record a new album of original material with their original producer David Rubinson.  Moby Grape’s resident genius Alexander Spence had left the group abter being hospitalized for mental problems during the recording of their second album, Wow. For Granite Creek, Spence was back in the fold and accompanied by multi-inatrumentalist Gordon Stevens who apparently kind of watched over the volatile Spence as well.

At any rate, Moby Grape had imploded once again following a short tour including some high-profile but musically disastrous gigs at the Fillmore East in June of 71. Nonetheless, most of the Grape members stuck around Santa Cruz, and at least one, bassist Bob Mosley, still lived in nearby La Selva Beach last time I checked. The Grape reformed with various lineups over the next four decades, but I did not see them live until 1973, when a version of the group performed in the UCSC Quarry Amphitheatre.

However, my first Grape siting occurred fortuitously on the second night I was on campus. For most of my time at UCSC, the campus at night was bustling with energy. Each of the residential campuses had its own flavor but, between the dining halls, the dormitories, and coffee shops, each remained a hub of bustling activity well into the night. During orientation week, there were also a number of unadvertised dances and social events.  A group of new friends from my dorm and I were exploring the campus late that evening when we happened onto a dance concert at the spacious Cowell College Dining Hall, down the hill from my own new home at Crown College. Holding forth was a power trio that was billed as the Rhythm Dukes, featuring Grape lead guitarist Jerry Miller along with bassist John Barrett and, I presume, drummer John “Fuzzy”Oxendine.

The Rhythm Dukes were formed in 1969 following one of Moby Grape’s several breakups, when Miller and Grape drummer Don Stevenson  joined forces with Oxendine and Barrett in the Santa Cruz Mountains to hang out and form this new loose, jam-based ensemble. They routinely played the ballrooms and clubs in the Bay area through the summer, but Stevenson left the fold in the fall, with the band continuing as a trio. For most of 1970, the group was augmented by keyboardist/vocalist Bill Champlin, whose main band, the Sons of Champlin, had also broken up. Champlin left in late 1970 when the Sons reformed, and some additional Dukes, including guitarist Russell Dahneke, were recruited to round out the band. When The Grape reunited for 20 Granite Creek, the Dukes pretty much folded, although the show I saw and a couple of others demonstrated that the Dukes trio got together for a few fall 1971 gigs after Moby Grape had imploded once again. Those interested in the Rhythm Dukes should check out the band’s web site and Bruno Ceriotti’s extremely useful family tree and gig guide.
Rhythm Dukes 1970 Champlin, Oxendine, Miller, Barrett

The Dukes show at UCSC was my first exposure to Miller playing live, and his blend of speed and precision was, and remains, a marvel to behold. Details of the set are fuzzy, since I knew none of their material except for Miller’s “I’m The Kind Of Man That Baby You Can Trust,” which was one of the highlights of 20 Granite Creek, but there were blues standards, country-inflected workouts, and lots of extended jams. Not bad at all for a free, unadvertised orientation week concert.

Although the Dukes apparently folded soon after this gig, Miller was a steadfast presence in many different bands in the Santa Cruz area for the next several years, including the Original Haze (which featured future Call leader Michael Been on bass and vocals), the New Shreveport Homewreckers and many incarnations of Moby Grape.

A week or so later I had my first exposure to another peerless Santa Cruz Band, the eclectic quintet known as Oganookie. who were arguably the area’s best and most popular dance band. Oganookie got their start on the other coast during the height of psychedelia as a very different band called Federal Duck. Initially an informal aggregation of musically inclined students at suburban Philadelphia’s Haverford College that apparently at one time included humorist Dave Barry, the group, sans Barry, managed to get a recording contract with  Musicor Records and put out a single album in 1968 that was recorded by seven other musicians including bassist Bob Stern, drummer Tim Ackerman, lead guitarist George Stavis, and guitarist Jack Bowers. The band’s sound was a blend of Strawberry Alarm Clock style soft psychedelia with some harder-edged guitar workouts and just a taste of the bluegrass influences to come in their later incarnation.

By 1969, Stavis had flown the coop and secured a recording contract with Vanguard Records, for which he recorded the remarkable solo banjo recording Labyrinths. He also opened for the Grateful Dead at Purdue University on April 18 of that year, so apparently toured in support of that album.

1970 found the core of Federal Duck (Stavis, Ackerman, Stern, and decamped to a farm in the Santa Cruz mountains. They had added guitarist-vocalist Bruce Frye, and reinvented themselves as country-rock ensemble Oganookie.  Several of the musicians also switched instruments. In addition to playing bass, Stern proved to be a fine electric violin player.  Bowers moved to electric piano and became the group’s principal songwriter, whereas Stavis focused almost entirely on the electric banjo, sometimes switching to bass when Stern was fiddling. Another Duck member, keyboardist Ken Stover, also migrated to the Santa Cruz area, playing in bands including funksters Chameleon. 

Oganookie was a quintessential jam band a couple of decades before that term was coined. Their blend of rock and electrified bluegrass instrumentation and their tendency to play extended versions of  bluegrass tunes, notably their trademark pairing of Bill Monroe’s “Uncle Pen” and “Orange Blossom Special” made them one of the most popular acts for dances on campus and in town.  They also epitomized the people’s band ethos, playing many benefits and extolling the virtues of the back-to-the-land lifestyle the group modeled.

Alas, Oganookie’s term as a band was relatively short-lived, as the group broke up by mid-1973. Before sailing off into music history for good, the band did reunite in 1975 for a pair of energetic and sold-out concerts at the Coconut Grove Ballroom at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and, apparently, once again in 1991. Bob Stern moved back east, became a dentist, and still plays the fiddle.  Stavis and Ackerman both enrolled in the History of Consciousness program at UCSC, and Stavis also appears to have moved back east. He recorded a new-agey banjo album for Aspen Records in 1986 entitled Morning Moods, and still gigs periodically. Both Frye and Ackerman’s current whereabouts are not easily discoverable on the net.

Jack Bowers, however, stayed in the Santa Cruz area. After Oganookie’s demise, he spent several years working with country rocker Jill Croston (AKA Lacy J. Dalton) and built a career working in the Arts program at nearby Soledad Prison.  I saw him at a career retrospective concert at Kuumbwa in Santa Cruz last March, and he remains a fine keyboard player and composer.

As the seventies ticked by, Santa Cruz became more and more of a rock and roll town. More later. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Grateful Dead, Sufi Choir, Whirling Dervish Dancers and Yogi Bhajan. Winterland, 3/24/71.

By March of 1971, it had been a good seven months since I had seen the Grateful Dead, and several months since I had been to any large concerts.  A mid-week trip to Discount Records produced a handbill that showed the Dead playing at Winterland that evening, along with a mysterious crew including Yogi Baijan, the Sufi Choir, and the Whirling Dervish Dancers.  Although it was the middle of a school week, and I had never driven to San Francisco by myself,  I entreated my parents to let me go, and they assented, provided I could find someone to go with me. I asked a school friend, Tom, who had never seen the Dead, if he wanted to go, and he miraculously got permission from his parents to go with me, and by 8 PM or so, we were off on 101 towards Winterland.

Walking into the already darkened hall, it became immediately evident that this would not be a typical concert. On the stage were a number of robed, bearded gentlemen chanting around a roaring fire that sent flames high into the air inside what was famously a huge wooden firetrap.   Decades later, taking Yoga classes in Chicago, I learned what a major cultural force Yogi Bhajan and his Kundalini Yoga movement had become.  I can’t identify Bhajan in the photos I took, and another bespectacled gentleman led the chanting, so it is possible that he was not even there. Regardless, the spectacle certainly made a strong impression at the time.
Ceremonial Fire Winterland 3.24.71 Photo: M. Parrish
One can guess that the fire marshalls were not in attendance at that point. We found seats in the balcony and listened to the ceremony which, being mostly in Sanskrit, didn’t mean much to me at the time.

Once the chanting was finished, the fires were quenched (whew!) and the stage cleared for the Sufi Choir.  This group, conducted by William Allaudin Mathieu, came together as a group of followers of spiritual mystic Samuel Lewis, whose followers called him Mursid. The group was a true choir, that persisted under Mathieu’s direction from 1969 until 1983.  After performing several beautiful pieces on their own, the choir was joined by Dead members Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, and Bill Kreutzmann for their last two pieces. The Dead members provided delicate droning chords below the choir’s angelic harmonies, with Garcia’s leads dancing around the choir’s melodies – a magical, all to
Dead and Sufi Choir 3.24.71
Photo: M. Parrish
brief collaboration.

Winterland was pretty full, especially for a Wednesday night for a show with limited advance promotion, but most of the floor was cleared for the next performance, by a group of Whirling Dervish Dancers, who spun very quickly in large arcs, forming intricate patterns. I believe the accompaniment was just recorded music, but can’t say for sure.
Dervish Dancers 3.24.71 Photo: M. Parrish

Grateful Dead 3.24.71 Photo: M. Parrish
It was quite late, close to 11, when the Dead finally came onstage for their regular set. (Contrary to Deadbase, the New Riders did not appear at this show).   I was surprised and saddened by the absence of Mickey Hart, which had not been reported in the local press, despite his having been on hiatus from the band since February.  At this juncture, the band’s music was markedly less psychedelic than it has been just a few months earlier, with a raft of shorter songs, including several new originals, having taken the place of some of the longer pieces, although a nice Truckin’>Other One emerged late in the first set.  

Other than the early Fillmore West shows that included both an early and late set by each band on the
Grateful Dead 3.24.71 Photo: M. Parrish
bill, this was the first electric Dead show I saw that included two separate sets (although the “Evening with the Dead” shows included breaks between the acoustic set, the New Riders, and the electric set.  The shift from one drummer to two was palpable in the music, with a much greater emphasis on rockers, starting with the pairing of an embryonic “Greatest Story Ever Told” and “Johnny B. Goode” that opened the show, and continuing with new tunes like “Bertha” and “Playing in the Band” (in its initial, concise incarnation).  The show wrapped up with something else that was new to me, but quickly became the standard closer for the next few years – the Not Fade Away sandwich with “Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad” as the filling, followed by a nice “Uncle John’s Band” encore as closing time approached.

The drive home was interesting, given that I had been through a full day of school before taking off on this evening adventure. It had been a splendid evening, full of surprises, and a great introduction to the leaner, more rock oriented Grateful Dead of 1971. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

My Season with Kingfish Part Three

After giving my phone number to Tim Hovey at the Keystone Berkeley, I don’t think I really expected to hear from him. Imagine my surprise a couple of weeks later when I got a phone call from Richard Hundgen, Kingfish’s manager at the time. Richard there at the beginning of the in the Haight Ashbury music scene, a member of the original inner circle of Big Brother and the Holding Company and a good friend of Janis Joplin’s.  Turns out he had an open date, and we actually began talking about bringing Kingfish to UCSC on March 7. Since it was already early February, that didn’t provide a lot of lead time.

At the time, I was a member of Gotterdammerung, the group at UCSC’s Crown College that screened films in the college’s dining hall every Saturday night. As such, getting access to the dining hall wasn’t too big a problem. A bigger problem was how to sell tickets and deal with expenses, principally paying the band. Because it was technically a university function, all of the funds had to flow through the events office, which also sold tickets for the event, and they would only issue a check for the performers – a situation that understandably did not sit well with the band. It took a lot of finagling, and at least one promoter-to-manager phone shouting match, to get everything settled, but amazingly, it all came together. My colleagues in the film group were amazing, working out details like lighting, security, and publicity.  The event poster was drawn by Judy, by then my fiancĂ©, and copies were put up mainly just on campus.
Crown College Dining Hall entrance today.
The dining hall proper is to the left

During this period, we saw several other Kingfish shows, including a second one at the Keystone Berkeley where I met up with Richard face to face after the show. He invited me back to the Keystone Green Room, which looked exactly like it does in the inside gatefold of the Garcia-Saunders live album, minus the nun, and with a different cast of characters. 

As the date of the show approached, tickets were selling briskly, and things were looking up. In talking with Richard, we had broached the idea of hosting a dinner for the band before the show. He initially declined, saying that the band usually ate by themselves, but later accepted the invitation on behalf of the band and crew. At that time, Crown College had a small conference facility near its parking lot in a secluded building that now houses radio station KZSC.  We ended up serving dinner to the band and crew down there. People came and went as they set up for the show in the dining hall up the hill. The crew that night was Tim Hovey and Rex Jackson, and Richard was there to tend to business.

If memory serves, we served them baked chicken, rice, and some dolmas that Judy scared up in downtown Santa Cruz. Although there was plenty to do, we managed some face time with the band during dinner. Oddly enough, the main topic of conversation among the group was the Karen Black TV movie “Trilogy of Terror,” which had aired earlier that week. The most significant music related bit of information I gleaned from the session was a confirmation by Weir that the Dead had indeed plotted to do a free show at UCSC’s gorgeous quarry amphitheatre in the late sixties. They ultimately abandoned the plan when it became apparent that it would be pretty much impossible to make the logistics work without ending up with a Santa Cruz version of Altamont. Still, it was nice to have that urban legend confirmed firsthand.

Quarry Amphitheater UCSC

The band, who had been playing several nights a week in clubs, had a relatively minimal setup, although they did bring their own PA. We handled the lights from the projection booth near the top of the dining hall’s elevated ceiling. As the show approached, I was tasked with doing a lot that glamorous promoter stuff – finding Mr. Kelly some decongestant, guiding Mr. Weir to a secluded restroom, cleaning up after dinner… you get the drift.

With little more than on-campus publicity, the show handily sold out, and there were a few people listening outside, but the numbers were completely manageable. If I remember correctly, the show started more or less on time, and the band played the three one-hour sets specified in the contract. As I noted in the previous entries, Kingfish was a stellar live act in 1975, and their show that night did not disappoint, although promoter duties distracted me from giving it my full attention. The audience, mostly UCSC students who had not yet heard Kingfish, gave the band a rousing reception.

I did get some significant karma payback that night. The previous year, I had been part of a group of Crown students that smuggled a large number of marshmallows into Winterland for the 2/23/74 Dead show. This was inspired by tales from Bob R., the preceptor of our dorm, who had first seen the Dead on 4/14/71 when they played at his undergraduate alma mater, Bucknell College in Lewisburg, PA. Apparently a group of Bucknell students had similarly smuggled in marshmallows, and Bob and his friends were participants in a ferocious marshmallow fight. He waxed poetic about how much fun it was to throw the marshmallows around, and how it was harmless and good clean fun.

Doing the same thing in the spacious confines of Winterland proved fun, but certainly not clean and, unfortunately, a good number of the squishy missiles made their way onto the stage, prompting Phil Lesh to admonish the crowd to “share the marshmallows with your friends rather than throwing them up on stage.”

At any rate, some of the same miscreants decided it would be fun to recreate this event one more time,
Ticket stub from the 3/7/75 show
at the UCSC Kingfish show. A marshmallow war did occur, brief in duration but lasting in impact, as I and my colleagues learned as we spent well over an hour scrubbing the sticky dining hall floor after the show. Meanwhile, the band packed up their gear and prepared to hit the road. I got surprisingly warm thanks from the band, and especially from Hovey and Jackson.

After the Kingfish show, I got a call from John McIntire, who was managing Keith and Donna at the time, asking if we wanted to promote a show with them a few weeks later. At that point, though, I was looking at a wedding in May, and had a round of chemistry and biology classes to finish up before graduating in June. That show did go on, but with a different group of student promoters and at the somewhat roomier Kresge Town Hall.  All in all, I am glad I had the experience of promoting a show, and it gives me a great appreciation of all that goes into making such events run smoothly. Furthermore, I believe this was still the only time that any of the original core members of the Dead have performed on the campus that now houses the Grateful Dead’s Archive.

I saw Kingfish a number of times after the UCSC show, but the frequency dropped as other commitments (graduating, marriage, graduate school) took more and more of my time.  The last really memorable shows I can think of were in June, 1975. On June 8, Kingfish preceded Garcia and Saunders on a warm Sunday afternoon in Palo Alto’s El Camino Park, where I had attended a couple of Midpeninsula Free University Be-Ins several years earlier. Kingfish played their usual tight set. After the show, Judy and I walked back across the street to Stanford Shopping Center’s parking lot with Dave Torbert and his partner Patty. Nine days later, Kingfish played a two set show at the sprawling Winterland benefit for poster artist Bob Fried that culminated in an epic “Garcia and Friends” set that was actually the Dead’s first full show since their hiatus from touring the previous October.

Kingfish in its original incarnation carried on for about another year, at which point Bob Weir chose to devote his energies once again to touring with the Dead. Kingfish carried on, but the original lineup splintered, leaving Torbert and Kelly with a changing crew of guitarists and drummers over the next several years.  Torbert passed away, way too early, in 1982, but Kelly carried on with the Kingfish name until well into the 1990s, occasionally reuniting with Weir, most notably during a 1986 tour that also featured Steve Kimock on lead guitar.