Monday, October 4, 2010

40 Years Ago Today - Three Bands for Three Dollars at Winterland

I’m going to deviate from a strict chronological narrative in order to tip my hat to the 40th anniversary of an eventful, if not necessarily uplifting, hallmark in the history of San Francisco music. For the evenings of October 4th and 5th, 1970, the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, and Quicksilver Messenger Service leased Winterland from Bill Graham for two shows billed as “Three Bands for Three Dollars.” By this time, it was very traditional for this ‘big three’ groups to share billings, but getting all of them on one bill was becoming difficult, and indeed this was the last time even any two of the groups would appear together (not counting the two dual Dead-Jefferson Starship billings in GG Park on 3/23/75 and 9/28/75). In honor of the occasion, radio stations KSAN and KQED, along with KQED TV partnered to deliver a live broadcast of the show on TV with Quadraphonic sound. In honor of this occasion, I created an ad-hoc media center in our living room with my own little stereo tuned to KQED, the family stereo on KSAN, and the TV from the family room.

The broadcast began awhile after the show began, and reputedly there was a set by the New Riders before the broadcast began, with just a snippet of “Truckin’” as a check of the broadcast gear, which at the time I believe consisted of phone lines from the hall to the radio studios. The broadcast began in earnest with a very energetic version of the Hunter/Garcia tune “Till the Morning Comes” which did a nice job of separating out the drum kits of Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann. The rest of the Dead’s shortish set was well played, heavy on tunes from both Workingmans Dead and the soon-to-be released American Beauty. However, exploratory pieces like “The Other One” and “Dark Star” were not played, possibly because of time restrictions. The sole stretched out part of the set was a rousing “Good Lovin,’” which included two extended percussion breaks before and after the first verse. The set was also notable because Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, who had returned to playing keyboards when Tom Constanten left the band the previous January, ended up playing tambourine for the set because the Dead’s organ was mistakenly left back at the studio.

During the set break, word came through that Janis Joplin had passed away from a heroin overdose down in Los Angeles. Understandably, this put a damper on the proceedings, but the musicians carried on as best they could. Next up was the Jefferson Airplane, whose set opened with their recent single “Have You Seen the Saucers.” The Airplane’s set was relatively well played, but dissention among the ranks was visible on TV. New drummer Joey Covington sang a couple of clunky rockers, “Whatever the Old Man Wants” and “The Man (Bludgeon for a Bluecoat,” and Marty Balin’s contributions were “Up and Down,” “Emergency,” and “You Wear Your Dresses Too Short.” Otherwise, the set was dominated by Grace Slick and Paul Kantner, who had largely assumed leadership of the group by this time. At the end of an explosive medley of “We Can Be Together” and “Volunteers,” Balin shouted “ I need a new band!” slammed his microphone back into the stand, and walked off stage. As far as I know, it would be the last time he performed with the Airplane proper until their 1989 reunion. The next night was the debut of fiddler Papa John Creach, whose bluesy electric violin veered the band even further away from its folk-rock roots.

After a longish break, a radically retooled Quicksilver Messenger Service took the stage, with singer Dino Valenti clearly calling the shots. For the first time, the band included a horn section, including the ubiquitous Martin Fierro on saxophone, and was also augmented by electric pianist Mark Naftalin. The group’s set was very short, just about 40 minutes, and consisted entirely of Valenti tunes including “Fresh Air,” “Subway,” and “What About Me?” Tempos were sluggish, the horn section ill-rehearsed, and the hour late, so their set wound up just about 2 AM anticlimactically with another Valenti dirge “Call on Me.”  This would prove to be guitar icon John Cipollina’s last regular gig with QMS, although he returned briefly to play with the group for their New Year’s Eve performance a few blocks away at the Kabuki Theatre. It is clear from some onstage bickering audible on the recording from this show that this short lived attempt at détente made for another  tense evening.

The broadcast terminated at that point, so I do not know if any intra-band jamming took place afterwards. It is possible that stalwarts like Garcia, Kaukonen, and Cipollina could have done so but, given the dark tone of the evening, I doubt it. Ironically, what was scheduled as a celebration of the best of San Francisco music ended with the death of one of its brightest stars and the loss of key members to two of the three groups on the bill. Audio tapes of these shows circulate, taken from one or the other halves of the quadraphonic mix, but apparently no video from the broadcast exists.

9 comments:

Corry342 said...

Quadrophonic, yes, the "future of music." Did you know anyone who owned a quadrophonic system? I didn't.

Was this the only Quad live broadcast ever?

cryptdev said...

I believe it was the third of at least four in the bay area in 1970. The first two were the "Calebration" TV/dual Radio broadcasts, the first with Boz Scaggs and Linda Ronstadt, the second with the Dead, Quicksilver, and Swamp Dogg. The final quad experiment was the new year's broadcast of the Dead/Hot Tuna show. This one proved to be a technical nightmare, as the feeds to both radio stations failed a few minutes into the first song of the Dead's set. KQED limped along for a few songs with very funky sound quality. The entire Dead and Tuna sets were, however, shown on TV. Again, I was told no video record of this show remains, and I think this PR disaster pre-empted any future quad experiments

Bruno Ceriotti said...

Michael great work as always!. I don't know about Mark Naftalin and Martin Fierro playing with QMS at Winterland and John Cipollina playing with QMS at Kabuki Theatre. Thanks!!. I've update my "QMS Family Tree" and my "QMS Performance List 1970" accordingly to this new information and gave you the credit obviously!. I know Hot Tuna also was billed both nights and the shows were also billed as "San Francisco Sound Meeting" as well as "Three Bands for Three Dollars".

Light Into Ashes said...

An interesting post - I hadn't heard before how dire the rest of the evening was!

I also hadn't heard that the 8/30/70 'Calebration' show was also quadraphonic - the only one of these sets where the TV video of the Dead still survives. (It's not a super-exciting set, and circulating quality isn't terrific, but it's still one of the few spots of 1970 GD on film.)
The video soundmix appears to be identical to the circulating tape, which may be FM or may be taken from the video...

On 12/31/70, deadlists says that KSAN broadcast the first 4 songs....on the circulating copy, KSAN is said to be one of the sources, but it's not: it's a mix of an (excellent) audience tape and an SBD -
http://www.archive.org/details/gd70-12-31.sbd-fm.7283.sbeok.shnf

One of the bizarre things about this hodgepodge, is that the famous moment where the Dead bust an audience taper can be heard twice - once from the SBD before Sugar Magnolia, and once from the AUD before China Cat!

Anonymous said...

Marty Balin continued to perform with the Jefferson Airplane until after the November 1970 tour. He officially quit the band in March 1971.

cryptdev said...

Like John Cipollina and Quicksilver, Marty came in and out of the Airplane over the next several months. However, he did quit, albeit inconclusively, on 10/4 and the next night the Airplane performed without him and for the first time with Papa John Creach.

Anonymous said...

I have all three sets (GD JA QMS) on cd. I really like the QMS set with the brass and get into a groove everytime I listen to it. The GD set is a bit short but fun. I hear that their 10/5/70 show was a lot longer and more exciting. Too bad it doesn't circulate (it's not in the vault). The JA set is nice but I don't know who decided that Joey Covington should contribute songs. His tunes are lame.

Dean E Tiernan said...

I am listening to a newly released CD of Dan Hicks recorded and presented live at the KSAN Studios. According to Big Daddy Tom Donahue it is one of many quad broadcasts brought to you by our friends at Top of the Hill Mathews Stereo. Digitally remastered in 2014. So there is at least one more quadcast and K101 did a lot of quad experimentation.

cryptdev said...

Good catch Dean. I recorded a bunch of those 1971 KSAN Sunday broadcasts, but never noticed that any of them were delivered quadraphonically.