Saturday, June 9, 2012

Jerry Garcia and his banjo in Santa Cruz 1973-75

Jerry Garcia performed relatively often in the Santa Cruz area with his various bands from 1975 until 1985, but his previous appearances were few and not too well documented. Garcia clearly had friends in the area, but seemed to either not be interested in making the trip down south for gigs or, possibly more likely, lacked an appropriate place to play in the area and/or a reliable promoter to work with.

Poster for 10.5.73 OIITW Show
The first Garcia gig I know of in Santa Cruz county (not counting possible acid tests or undocumented early Dead gigs) was on October 5, 1973 at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium with Old and In the Way.  From 1978 on, Garcia played at the Civic on a number of occasions with his touring band, but this was a rare opportunity to see him on banjo in an acoustic setting. Old & In the Way, which also comprised Peter Rowan (guitar, vocals and principal songwriter), David Grisman (mandolin and vocals), John Kahn (bass) and a variety of fiddle players (most prominently Vassar Clements, who was on board at the Civic gig), had been playing as an ensemble since March, 1973 in between Garcia's gigs with the Dead and Merl Saunders. Other than a couple of concert hall/bluegrass festival mini-tours back east, OIITW had pretty much restricted themselves to club gigs at places like the Keystone Berkeley, Homer's Warehouse, and the Boarding House, so the SC Civic (capacity 2000) show was a large one for them, and a pretty big payday for the other band members, even at the $3.50 advance/$4 door tariff. The promoters, Jelly Roll Community Productions, probably promoted some other shows in the area, but never established themselves as a regular force in the region's concert market.

For many years, the SC Civic had been underused as a concert venue. The first show I saw there was an early Santa Cruz Neil Young gig with the Stray Gators the previous spring (3/10/73) about which I will write more later at some point. The venerable and relatively intimate venue has always been a fine place to see concerts, with good sight lines from almost anywhere on the floor or the raised stands that ring the arena. It remains a cultural icon in Santa Cruz, hosting concerts on a regular basis along with the annual season of appearances by the city's very popular Santa Cruz Roller Derby Girls. The OIITW show was general admission, with chairless festival seating on the floor. I recall our contingent getting a very good position on the floor a few people back from the stage. The hall was full, probably sold out, but not oversold.

Although I had heard a few OIITW shows on the radio, the Civic show was the only time I saw the bluegrass quintet live. They were preceded by two solo acts. First up was Bruce Frye, who had spent  the lead singer and principal songwriter for the beloved Santa Cruz proto-jam band Oganookie (which will get a post of their own at some point) before the group broke up a few months earlier. As a hometown hero, Frye's laid back solo set was brief but well received. Next up was folk legend Ramblin' Jack Elliot, who by this time lived in Marin and traveled in the same circles as the members of the Dead. Elliot opened at least one other OIITW show, the group's last regular gig at Sonoma State on 11/4/73. An old pro, Elliot worked the crowd masterfully with his short, alternately wry and wistful performance before the stage was set for Old and In the Way.

I did not make a set list for the OIITW set, and no recordings seem to exist of the show, so I can only approximate what was played (Paradoxically, the compere announced that the show was being broadcast live on Santa Cruz radio station KUSP - so far as I know, no recordings of the broadcast exist!). The group's repertoire is very well represented by the band's original album (which remains one of the best selling bluegrass releases today) and the several subsequent archival releases on David Grisman's Acoustic Disc label. Most of Peter Rowan's OIITW originals were played - "Lonesome LA Cowboy," "Panama Red," "Midnight, Moonlight," and an extended version of "Land of the Navajo" to finish up the one long set. I think they opened with the Stanley Brothers tune "Goin' to the Races" and they also played the Jack Bonus Tune "Hobo Song" as well as Grisman's "Old and In the Way." Garcia took a vocal lead on another Stanley Brothers tune, "White Dove," while Rowan shone on his interpretation of the Stones tune "Wild Horses." Late in the set, Ramblin' Jack came out to yodel the Hank Williams classic "Waiting for A Train." Particularly impressive was the fiddle work of Vassar Clements on his own "Kissimee Kid" and the set closing extravaganza "Orange Blossom Special." I'm sure more was played, but I was mostly familiar with the OIITW repertoire from a couple of radio broadcasts at that point and don't trust my memory any further. The group seemed in high spirits and played very well together, leaving little indication that they would call it a day (other than a short reunion at the 1974 Marin Bluegrass Festival) after two more gigs. For whatever reason, I did not bring my camera to this show, probably operating under the assumption that I would have the opportunity to photograph the group under more favorable circumstances at some other time. Too bad.

In February, 1975, Margarita's a new watering hole/restaurant featuring live music opened at 1685 Commercial Way, just east of Highway 1 in south Santa Cruz. The club was nicely appointed, airy, and featured very good Mexican Food. They had a 'soft opening' on February 16 with Kingfish, and scored a real rarity a few nights later that will be the focus of the rest of this post. To get a feel for Margarita's and their adventurous and diverse booking policy, here is a reasonably complete schedule of the club's adventurous jazz/rock/blues bookings during the Winter/Spring/Summer of 1975:

2/16  Kingfish
2/21  Good Old Boys
2/22,23  Sons of Champlin
2/24,25  Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee
2/27,28  Earl "Fatha" Hines
3/1,2      Albert King Revue
3/8         Etta James, Anna Rizzo and the A Train
3/12,13  Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show
3/14,15  Kenny Rankin
3/17  Gato Barbieri
3/21   Butch Whacks and the Glass Packs
3/22   Pablo Cruise
3/23   Billy Cobham
3/27   Don Ellis Big Band
3/28   Snail
3/29  Chameleon
3/30  Ray Brown
4/1,2  Eddie Harris
 4/3  Chameleon
4/4,5  Hugh Masekela
4/7,8  George Benson
4/10  Chameleon
4/11,12  Jimmy Witherspoon
4/13 Hoodoo Rhythm Devils
 4/14  Eleventh House with Larry Coryell
4/18 Snail
 4/19 Pablo Cruise
4/20  Snail, Larry Hosford, Artichoke Revue
4/22,23  Return to Forever
4/24  Oregon
4/25,26  Beau Brummels
4/27  Bobby Hutcherson/Randy Masters
4/29,30  Willie Dixon and the Chicago All Stars
5/1  White Eyes
5/2,3  Cold Blood
5/4  Dirty Butter
5/5  Caryn Robin
5/7,8  Burrows-Larson
5/9 Grinders Switch
5/10 Tubes
5/12 Caryn Robin
5/14,15 Jeremy Steig
5/16,17 Muddy Waters
5/23,24 Etta James
5/25 Snail
5/27 Chameleon
5/28,29 Holly Penfield
5/30,31  Tubes
6/1 White Eyes
6/3 Brian Auger
6/5,6 Stoneground
6/7 Kingfish
6/10 Freddie King and Pablo Cruise
6/12-14  Snail and Raw Soul
6/15 White Eyes
6/16 Caryn Robins
6/19 Dirty Butter
6/20,21 Keith and Donna
6/22 Snail
6/23 Caryn Robins
6/24 Feltones
6/25, 26 Country Joe McDonald
7/13,14 James Cottom
7/16,17  Sons of Champlin
7/18,19 Jerry Miller Band
7/20 White Eyes
7/21 Burrows-Larson
7/22 Holly Penfield
7/25,26 Raw Soul
7/27,28 Soundhole
7/29 Holly Penfield
7/30,31 Stoneground
8/1,2 Albert Collins
8/4,5 Hedzoleh Sounds
8/6,7 Bo Diddley
10/2 Merl Saunders
10/3 Kenny Rankin
10/4-5 Jerry Miller
10/6 White Eyes
10/7 Artichoke Brothers
10/8-9 Kathi McDonald

Jerry Garcia's second appearance in Santa Cruz during the 1970s was a very low key affair. As was the case elsewhere in the bay area at that time, he could show up at a club, get a reasonable but not unmanageable crowd, and get to play some music without a lot of the hoopla and baggage that came with a Dead show. Because Margarita's had just opened, publicity for this show was pretty miniscule - a concert schedule listing in Santa Cruz weekly rag Sundaz was about all there was. I had learned about it when I went to the Kingfish opening show, but found a relatively sparse group in attendance when we showed up at the show. The Jerry Site gig list shows two Margarita's dates for the group, on Feb. 20 and 21st, but to the best of my recollection they only played the one night I heard them.

During early 1975, Jerry Garcia's principal playing output was the Garcia/Saunders Band, which was shortly going to start billing themselves as Legion of Mary. The Dead were on hiatus except for a few one-off appearances such as the one they would do the next month at Kezar Stadium. So why would Garcia show up playing banjo in a tiny Mexican Cantina in Santa Cruz with an entirely unique lineup? Posts in both Jerry Garcia's Middle Finger and Lost Live Dead have posited that Garcia often experimented with formats in out-of-the-way venues, and Margarita's certainly fit that bill at that point in time.

At Margarita's the Good Old Boys comprised Garcia on banjo, mandolin player Frank Wakefield, New Riders guitarist David Nelson, and standup bassist Pat Campbell. During the course of their set, it became apparent that the group, less Garcia (who had produced) and augmented by bluegrass legends Chubby Wise on fiddle and Don Reno on banjo, had just recorded an record an album, Pistol Packin' Mama, that came out a few months later on the Dead's Round Records label. Clearly Reno and Wise, who participated in two days of recording for the album, had already decamped back down south, so Garcia was recruited to fill the banjo slot. I wish my memory of the set was more substantial, but it is no surprise that they played most, if not all, of the material on the album, which included the title tune, "Ashes of Love," "Dim Lights," and "Glendale Train" from the NRPS repertoire and "Deep Elem Blues" (Wakefield's version) which was a regular in the Dead's 1970 acoustic set lists.  I do not remember any Garcia lead vocals, although a reputed GOB tape I had at one point had him singing "Russian Lullaby" (I suspect that was actually derived from a Great American String Band set rather than a GOB set) but they definitely did not play it that night. Further details are lost in the sands of time, and complicated by the fact that I was just starting to learn the traditional bluegrass repertoire at the time. Nonetheless, it was a fun, low-key evening, and Garcia, Nelson, Wakefield, and Campbell seemed to be really enjoying themselves.  

Although Garcia did not make a return visit to Margarita's he started to visit Santa Cruz more regularly thereafter, first for three 1975-76 shows (10/8/75, 2/26/76, and 8/19/76) with the JGB at the Del Mar Theatre, downtown on the Pacific Garden Mall, and later at both the Catalyst two blocks down Pacific  (11 shows from 1979-85: 3/30-31/79 5/27/79, 2/7/80, 1/18/81, 1/29/81, 2/2-3/82, 10/13/82 and 10/16/85) and back at the Civic Auditorium (2/19/78, 3/5/83, and 2/24/87).

As for Margarita's - their high-profile booking policy seems to have been hard to sustain financially and, even by the time the gig summary above tailed off, they were relying more and more on homegrown Santa Cruz talent and closed by sometime in 1977. Margarita's was visited on several occasions by Neil Young's stealth tours of Santa Cruz, at least once in 1976 and, I believe, on several nights during his summer of 1977 residency with the Ducks, which I will get to here in due time...
Today the location is a medical/dental office building, but a relatively similar venue, Moe's Alley, is located about a block away, at 1535 Commercial.


Corry342 said...

This is amazing. Dennis McNally's list had two nights at Margareta's, but I am confident you are correct and they only played one. On a comment thread, an unknown party said that Brantley Kearns played fiddle for the Good Old Boys.

I had no idea that Margareta's had such a substantial booking policy. Two lost Kingfish shows, too.

I have to substantially update my Santa Cruz post. This is great stuff--the poster for OAITW also.

Corry342 said...

In the interests of completeness--which is pretty much what I live for--the May 10, 1975 booking of The Tubes at Margarita's would likely have been Vince Welnick's first Santa Cruz County appearance.

cryptdev said...

I believe the Tubes may have played several times at the Catalyst prior to the opening of Margarita's, but it would take some research to determine if and when they did so.

Corry342 said...

The Tubes played the tiny Catalyst at the St. George Hotel? Wow.

cryptdev said...

Again, no way to verify without a lot of research, but I think they may have even played there at least once under their previous name, the Beans.

Steve Premo said...

This is wonderful. I've been in Santa Cruz since I moved here in '74, and I remember Margarita's Cantina. I saw Hot Tuna there, and I believe I saw the Good Old Persons, but without Jerry.

Last night I saw Los Lobos at Moe's Alley, and was reminiscing about Margarita's. I couldn't remember which building it was in, and your post cleared that up.

That area has seen Margarita's Cantina, free live music by fairly big name artists at General Feed and Seed, OT Price's Music Hall (now a pet food store), and Moe's Alley.

cryptdev said...


Thanks for your comment. It is interesting how many good venues have come and gone in that area. The only really stable venues have been the catalyst (warts and all) and Kuumbwa. The Good Old Persons was a different band than the Good Old Boys. If Frank Wakefield was in the group you saw, it was the good old boys. If it was predominately women, with Kathy Kallick and Sally van Meter, it would have been the Good Old Persons!

Anonymous said...

I would love to see your promised story about the Neil Young/Linda Ronstadt concert in March 1973. My girlfriend stood in line much of the day while I was working; we wound up with front-row seats about ten feet from the performers.

Linda was fantastic, at the top of her game. She blew everyone away and we didn't want her to leave the stage when her opening set was done.

A nice bonus: David Crosby and Graham Nash showing up for the electric part of Neil's show. One of the best concerts I ever attended!

cryptdev said...

I'll try to get to it soon. It was a great, great show.

JGMF said...

More Margarita's gigs:

October 2, 1975: Merl Saunders.
October 3, 1975: Kenny Rankin
October 4-5, 1975: Jerry Miller
October 6, 1973: White Eyes
October 7, 1973: Artichoke Brothers
October 8-99, 1973: Kathy McDonald

cryptdev said...

Thanks for the additions, JGMF! I haven't seen a lot of late summer or fall 75 Merl Saunders listings. I wonder who played with him?

JGMF said...

I think it was an Aunt Monk sort of thing, probably Tony on bass.

Anonymous said...

Hey Michael!

I'm still waiting to read about the Santa Cruz Neil Young gig with the Stray Gators on 3/10/73. It's been almost three years since my last comment and I ain't getting any younger!

What a great blog you have put together. It takes me back to the glory days of Santa Cruz. It makes me wonder why I ever left. . .


JGMF said...

I do wonder about Margareta's on February 20th. Notes from Steve Brown's cassette tapes of the sessions at Ace's on this date say that Jerry has a gig on the night of 2/20. I don't know where else he might have been ...