Sunday, August 26, 2012

Grateful Dead - August 1972

Upon returning from their winter-spring 1972 jaunt through Europe, the Grateful Dead chose to spend the summer into fall alternating between large outdoor shows and mid-sized, theatres. This week marks the 40th Anniversary of a run of Dead shows that culminated in the much-heralded Veneta, Oregon performance on 8/27/72 that was memorialized by the unreleased but oft-bootlegged film Sunshine Daydream and was lauded by John Dwork in the first volume of the Deadhead’s Taping Compendium as one of the high water marks of western civilization. I went to two of the  less heralded of the six shows of that run,, and took a few pictures at the 8/20/72 show, so I thought I would take this occasion to share a few reflections here.

In the summer of 1972 , I was between my frosh and sophomore years at the University of California Santa Cruz and home in Palo Alto for the summer. As was the case every summer during my undergraduate years, I scrambled to find employment that would allow me to fund the next year’s schooling. After quite a bit of searching, I secured a temporary gig at plastics company Raychem in Menlo Park, creating heat-shrinkable tubing for electronic wiring on the graveyard shift. This was my first and only job on a production line, and it gave me a deep appreciation for what my colleagues in the plant – and their counterparts in similar facilities throughout the world – did every day. I think it also gave me an even greatea appreciation of the privilege I had to gain a college education.  In the meantime, the graveyard shift schedule, which began at midnight Sunday night and ended at 8 AM Friday mornings (unless we worked overtime on Friday night as well) wreaked havoc with my biological as well as social clocks.  I would get home, eat breakfast, try to sleep during the day, and emerge, vampire-like in the late afternoon or evening. It never quite worked, and I always attempted to revert to a conventional schedule on weekends, which meant that I spent most of the summer in a sleep-deprived state.

In July, when tickets were announced for a run of four Dead shows at the relatively intimate Berkeley Community Theater, I realized that the only one of the shows my work schedule would permit me to attend was the Friday, August 25 show. I and a few of my college friends, went to the local Sears Ticketron outlet and got tickets which, if memory serves, were either in the first or one of the closest rows. Roughly a week before this run of shows began, a last-minute addition to the Dead’s schedule was added, for Sunday, August 20 at the equally intimate San Jose Civic Auditorium. Since I didn’t have to be at work until midnight that evening, I figured I would have time to see that show as well, so it was back to Sears for general admission tickets for my friends and I.

The Sunday show was the only time the Dead played the San Jose Civic Audirorium, Although the band had roots in the mid-peninsula, and had famously played the San Jose Acid Test in an old Victorian house on the current site of the San Jose City Hall Rotunda the night of the Rolling Stones’ 1966 show at the Civic, they never gigged at the Civic Auditorium during the sixties, when the auditorium hosted shows by a wide variety of rock acts including the Byrds, Cream, the Airplane,  and the Buffalo Springfield. Garcia had played there a few weeks earlier (7/1/72) with Merl Saunders, Tom Fogerty, John Kahn, and Bill Vitt, and apparently liked the intimate, funky confines of the Civic enough to bring the Dead there as part of their west coast August run. 

San Jose Civic Auditorium
San Jose Civic Auditorium in its heyday
The Civic is a gorgeous, 3300 capacity mission-style auditorium that was built as part of the WPA project and opened in 1936. The horseshoe-shaped seating arrangement made for good sightlines from the floor, the mezzanine seating, and the balcony.  After years of relative disuse during the late 20thcentury, the audirorium underwent an extensive makeover in the last several years, and now again serves as a mid-sized venue for south bay concerts. I saw veteran rock bands Yes and Procol Harum there a couple of weeks ago, and was impressed with the improvements in seating, lighting, and sound reinforcement, while maintaining the feel of the old facility.

Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir 8.20.72 Photo: M. Parrish

Bill Kreutzmann and Phil Lesh 8.20.72 Photo: M. Parrish
Although the San Jose show was held on a Sunday night and was a last-minute addition to the roster, it was the Dead’s first local appearance since the trip to Europe, and drew a respectable, if not sold out crowd. Their set included a few songs that local crowds had not heard before, including the Garcia-Hunter ballad “Stella Blue” and “He’s Gone,” Hunter’s not to Mickey Hart’s father Lenny,  the one-time Dead manager who had absconded with a bunch of the band’s money a couple of years before. What was most striking, to me at least, was the extent to which Keith and Donna Godchaux had been incorporated into the band.  Keith’s jazzy piano chops proved a powerful foil to Garcia and Lesh, as evidenced by the extended improvisational workouts on “Playing in the Band” and “The Other One.” Donna’s vocal role was most evident on choral arrangements such as the coda to “He’s Gone” and the almost doo-wop harmonies that now ornamented Bob Weir’s “One More Saturday Night.” The relatively concise show was over by about 1030, giving me plenty of time to make it to work by midnight.

The 8/20/72 gig was, sadly, the Dead’s only performance at the San Jose Civic, and they only played the city of San Jose one more time, an outdoor show at San Jose State University’s Spartan Stadium in 1979 that was the debut of keyboardist Brent Mydland.

Berkeley Community Theatre
The Berkeley Community Theatre which seats 3500, is similar in size to the San Jose Civic, but configured more of a conventional theatre than the arena-shaped south bay venue. Throughout his years as a promoter, Bill Graham used the facility for more upscale acts that benefited from its fixed seating and acoustics far superior to Graham’s other venues like Winterland and the Cow Palace. The Dead first played the BCT in 1968, and had played two shows there the previous August, but the decision to play four nights there rather than two or three at Winterland this time out was clearly was an artistic rather than a financial one. 

The band’s BCT run is considered by many to be a high water mark of 1972, leading up to the infamous Oregon Field trip show the following Sunday. Excellent soundboard tapes circulate of the shows on the the 21st, 22nd, and 24th, but the Friday show is one of the few shows for which neither a complete recording or even a full setlist exists. A fragmentary soundboard recording is known that has the song order jumbled, based on my memory of the show. 

After waking from my Friday afternoon slumber, I collected my college roommate Tim and on and off girlfriend Debbie for the trip up to Berkeley. Arriving there, we made what proved to be a serious tactical error by chowing down at the Giant Burger on University Avenue, a perennial Berkeley landmark for many years previously and afterwards. We got to the Theater early, which proved to be a good thing. At 730, Bill Graham came out to announce that the show, scheduled for 8 PM, would be starting early with an unannounced set by the New Riders of the Purple Sage, who played their distinctive cosmic cowboy country rock for a good hour.

After a break, the Dead came on and got a rare person-by-person introduction “for all the folks from Boise” before the band slipped into their slow, funky rendition of “Cold Rain and Snow.” The first set was relatively textbook, save for a rare, and very rough, rendition of “The Frozen Logger,”which tended to show up when the band was dealing with some onstage equipment woes. The set ended with an uncharacteristically ragged version of “Bertha,” with Garcia mangling the words of a song he had performed at practically every show for the previous year and a half.  The second set opened with Weir’s spirited reading of Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land” which was followed by another wild and wooly voyage through “Playing in the Band” which, clocking in at 18 minutes plus,  was half again as long as the version we had heard in San Jose a few days before.

During this era in the band;s existence, the extended segment during the second set almost always alternated between sets of songs built around either “Dark Star’ or “The Other One.” As fate would have it, the Dark Stars occurred on Monday and Thursday, so both the San Jose and 8/25 Berkeley shows featured sets of music that opened with “Truckin’ and wound their way into “The Other One,” terminating in a slow ballad.  For the San Jose show, the transition between the two songs was punctuated by a Bill Kreuztmann drum solo, but the Friday Berkeley show found Truckin’ gradually giving way to one of Phil Lesh’s infrequent but always adventurous bass solos which drove the band powerfully into  another long, frenetic version of“The Other One,” which is separated by a break (presumably because of  a tape flip) from “Black Peter”on the soundboard tape.  

The Berkeley Community Theater was (and presumably still is) a union house, and stiff penalties were assessed if shows went beyond the contracted midnight curfew. Although the New Riders had started early, their set placed time pressure on the Dead’s usually open-ended time schedule. Thus the show ended somewhat abruptly without an encore with a “Sugar Magnolia” that just squeaked in before the witching hour.  Our show actually ended even a bit earlier, as the Giant Burger in Tim’s stomach had been making its presence known more and more strongly through the latter part of the show, and had us taking our leave just as the band was swinging into “Sunshine Daydream.”

After this run, the Dead did not play the BCT for many years, although Garcia played a benefit there with Merl Saunders in 1974 and some of the band participated in an acoustic set for a 4/15/81 benefit for SEVA.  1984, 1985, and 1986, the band did an annual run of shows there that were benefits for their chairtable arm, the Rex Foundation. Their last show there, a benefit for the music programs of the Berkeley public schools, was an acoustic set billed as Phil Lesh and Friends on 9/24/94.  The BCT has fallen into relative disuse in recent years, but recently had a new sound system installed, so perhaps it will, like the San Jose Civic, experience a 21st century revival as a live music venue.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Fillmore West 11.6.70 – Zappa, Boz, and More.

Frank Zappa Fillmore West 11.6.70 Photo: M. Parrish
Freak Out!, the first double album by the Mothers of Invention, was among the first dozen or so albums I bought, and Frank Zappa’s compositional skills, the eclectic musicianship of the original Mothers, and their greasy, sarcastic personae held great appeal to me as a mid-teen aged music nerd. Although I had all of their albums, the first opportunity I had to see Zappa in person was in November of 1970. Zappa and the Mothers topped a typically eclectic Bill Graham quadruple bill at the Fillmore West. Not unlike something out of one of Zappa’s cheesy teen anthems, a planned date to go to the show fell through at the last minute, so I once again headed up to San Francisco on a Friday night with my dad to Market and Van Ness.

At the Fillmores, Bill Graham was extremely fond of throwing together eclectic mixes of performers. Some made for artistic magic and others seemed – well – thrown together, and that was more the case for the Zappa show. Opening were two solid touring power trios from the UK. Bottom of the bill (and absent from the poster) was Irish band Skid Row (not to be confused with the later hair metal band), who played the familiar loud blooz rock that Cream had adopted from Chicago bluesmen like Buddy Guy a few years earlier. Skid Row’s guitarist was a young Garry Moore, who later became a regular guitar foil for Cream’s Jack Bruce,. They had briefly included future Thin Lizzy front man Phil Lynott on bass, but he was gone by the time I saw them. I honestly don’t remember much about Skid Row’s set – they couldn’t have played too long because of time constraints.

Next up were Liverpudlians Ashton, Gardner, and Dyke, who are best remembered today for one significant hit – “Resurrection Rag.” A bit proggy, A, G, & D put on a reasonable show that ended up with them doing that “Rag.” After splitting up in 1972, Ashton, Gardner, and Dyke performed in a number of short lived bands with former members of Deep Purple and Yes. They put on a pretty good show, but didn’t make much of an impression.

After departing the Steve Miller Band in 1968, guitarist Boz Scaggs disappeared for a year or so, re-emerging with his sublime eponymous solo album on Atlantic, which he had recorded in Muscle Shoals with the studio’s crack session team augmented by Duane Allman, who played a particularly dazzling solo on “Loan Me a Dime,” the Fenton Robinson blues that became Scaggs’ signature tune. After the album’s release, Scaggs assembled a large ensemble that became one of the best live bands during their time together from 1970 to 1972. The group’s first album together, 1970’s Moments,  was quiet, elegant, and jazzy – a strong departure from much of what was coming out at the time,  and a record that has stood the test of time much better than some of Scagg’s later disco efforts. Scaggs built his band around a set of talented and seasoned players, including former Mother Earth drummer George Rains, guitarist Doug Simril,  keyboard player Jymm Joachim Young, and a horn section made up of trombone player Pat O’Hara, sax and flute player Mel Martin, and trumpeter Bill Atwood (later replaced by Tom Poole). Scaggs’ sets of that era relied heavily on material from his first two solo albums, as well as a long, spacy version of“Baby’s Calling Me Home” from the first Capitol Steve Miller Band album.  The horn section did a lot more jazz blowing than R&B punctuation, and Young’s organ was a perfect counterpart for Scaggs and Simril’s heavily reverbed guitars.

Jeff Simmons, Flo, and Eddie 11.6.70 Photo: M. Parrishj
Frank Zappa’s original Mothers of Invention had been a relatively stable group for nearly five years, and that was the ensemble I fully expected to see at the Fillmore. However, Zappa had broken up the Mothers the previous November and, since June, had been touring with an entirely different group of Mothers built around former Turtles vocalists Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan (who assumed the nom de plumes of the Phlorescent Leech [later shortened to Flo] and Eddie during their tenure with Zappa).  This group was as theatrical, if not more, than the previous group, but relied much more on physical comedy,  pubescent humor, and heavily vocal arrangements. In addition to Zappa, the group had some very accomplished instrumentalists in jazz keyboard player George Duke, multi-instrumentalist Ian Underwood (the sole carryover from the 'classic' Mothers), and drummer Aynsley Dunbar. Bass player Jeff Simmons was also a solo artist on Zappa’s Straight label who had recently released Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up, which has subsequently become a cult classic.

Aynsley Dunbar and Zappa 11.6.70 Photo: M. Parrish
Zappa had recently finished filming his first movie Uncle Meat in 1969,  but announced at the Fillmore that the show was being filmed for a second movie, 200 Motels. Uncle Meat was not released as a film until a video version came out in 1987, but the 1969 double LP of the same name was one of the best efforts by the jazzy, middle period Mothers. 200 Motels, on the other hand, was released commercially in 1971. The film, starred a bizarre cast including Theodore Bikel and Ringo Starr. No footage from the Fillmore show was included in the movie proper, but much of the material filmed showed up in a 1971 VPRO TV documentary on Zappa and was also excerpted in Zappa's 1988 documentary The Real Story of 200 Motels. When you take into account the widely distrubuted soundboard tape of much of the performance, this stands as one of Zappa's best documented concerts. 

Zappa and Cameraman 11.6.70 Photo: M. Parrish
The set of music the band played the night I saw them was similar to much of what was released on Fillmore East June 1971, mixing  old Mothers songs like “Call Any Vegetable,” “Little House I Once Lived in” and a greatly shortened “King Kong” (all modified to incorporate the new vocal-heavy lineup) with new material like “The Sanzini Brothers” and “Do You Like My New Car?” which was built around comedy routines by Kaylan and Volman and allowed them to trot out the Turtles hit “Happy Together.” Although the group’s instrumental chops were still considerable, I was pretty disappointed that there wasn’t more Uncle Meat-style instrumental extrapolations. Still,  I was glad to have seen Zappa during this period and, if nothing else, he and his bandmates proved great photographic subjects, probably due at least in part to the film crew's presence.

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
2/20, 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 show that opened the venue. Given Garcia's popularity, it was surprising to find a relatively sparse group in attendance. I went to the second of the two evenings, on February 21.

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, fiddler Brantley Kearns, 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, and Kearns, who was also an actor and went on to work successfully with Dwight Yoakum a few years later, had been selected as the fiddler. 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.  Garcia sang a couple of tunes, "All the Good Times" and "Drink Up and Go Home," another tune that appeared a few times in 1970 Acoustic Dead sets.  it was a fun, low-key evening, and Garcia, Nelson, Wakefield, Kearns, and Campbell seemed to be really enjoying themselves. Amazingly, this performance was released on CD in 2018 on Rock Beat Records, having been recorded by John Cutler, later the Dead's sound man, using Owsley Stanley's Nagra Reel to Reel recorder.  

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.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Grateful Dead Fillmore West 6/5/70 and 8/19/70

 During the summer of 1970, the Dead continued to tweak their concert format. With the addition of the New Riders into the shows, along with the acoustic sets, the Dead could now provide an entire evening of music on their own. However, the June 1970 Fillmore West run of the group was transitional in that the billing followed the traditional Bill Graham three act format, with the poster listing the Dead, the New Riders, and Southern Comfort. My father and I went to the Friday show of the set, which meant dealing with end-of-week traffic that resulted in us getting in a bit after the show had started. Based on the format of previous Graham-booked Dead shows, we pretty much expected the Dead’s acoustic set to be folded within their electric set at the top of the bill. Therefore we were surprised to walk into the Fillmore to the strains of acoustic guitars and Bob Weir singing “Silver Threads and Golden Needles.”  The acoustic configuration of the Dead sounded more polished than it had in April, and again both Hart and Pigpen were absent. The repertoire was pretty familiar, the still unreleased “Friend of the Devil,” “Me and My Uncle” transferred over from the electric repertoire, and two tunes from the recently released Workingman’s Dead: Black Peter and the set closing “New Speedway Boogie,” for which Garcia switched over to electric guitar. Unlike the previous evening’s acoustic set, a tape of which recently surfaced,  neither David Nelson nor John Dawson from the New Riders participated in the evening’s acoustic set,

Following the acoustic Dead set was a great set by Southern Comfort, a band of seasoned Bay Area blues players that included drummer-vocalist Bob Jones, organist Steve Funk, guitarist Fred Olson, and a horn section comprising trumpeter John Wilmeth and saxophonist Rev. Ron Stallings. The group had recently released their debut album on Columbia, produced jointly by Nick Gravenites and soon-to-be Garcia sidekick John Kahn. Their big band blues-rock sound was very much in the style of what Gravenites and guitarist Michael Bloomfield were dishing out in that era – not too surprising as several of the Southern Comfort musicians, notably Jones, Wilmeth, Stavro, Olson, and Stallings, also played in the Bloomfield/Gravenites bands of that era. Sadly, Southern Comfort proved a relatively short-lived experiment, releasing only the one, eponymous album in 1970, but they sounded great live.

Next up were the New Riders, playing what may have been their first Fillmore West run (I have seen the New Riders listed as having played the evening of 2/7/70, but this is unconfirmed and doubtful). The Riders had tightened up considerably in the couple of weeks since I had seen them at Peninsula School, another indicator that David Torbert was a very new recruit to the band in spring of 1970 (see discussion here). No real surprises in their set, which was mostly first NRPS album material augmented by tunes like “Truck Drivin’ Man” and “Six Days on the Road.”

Weir and Kreutzmann 8.19.70 Photo: M. Parrish
The Grateful Dead played a particularly long, expansive electric set, starting out with their most frequent opener of that era, “Cold Rain and Snow.” “Easy Wind” brought McKernan to center stage, and provided an early opportunity for some open-ended jamming, followed inevitably by one of Weir’s cowboy covers, Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried.”

For whatever reason, the Dead rarely played "Dark Star" on their home turf in 1970 (2/8/70 and possibly 4/11/70 are the only verified Dark Stars played in northern California that year), but they seemingly loved to trot out the "Cryptical Envelopment/Other One" suite on home turf. A napkin compilation shows the Dead playing Dark Star once (possibly twice if they played it on 4/11/70) in Northern California out of 24 shows for which complete set lists exist. By contrast, they played  the "Cryptical" suite (or sometimes just "The Other One") at 12 of those 24 shows. By contrast, looking at shows in greater Metropolitan NYC (28 total), "Dark Star" and "Cryptical" were played 11 times each. Needless to say, the long number on 6/5 was again "Cryptical Envelopment" leading into a short drum duel followed by “The Other One" and back into a long, mellow “Cryptical" Coda, which threatened to go into "Cosmic Charlie", but eventually wound down, leading directly into the first hometown version of “Attics of My Life,” which the Dead would shortly be recording for inclusion on American Beauty.  Laced with complex vocal harmonies, “Attics” was always hard for the Dead to pull off in concert, and this version has its share of shaky harmonies.  Neglected mid-set, Pigpen was given two showcases in a row, a rollicking, if flub filled, “Hard to Handle” followed by one of many long, snaky versions of “It’s a Man’s World” that the Dead played between March and September, 1970, when it mysteriously vanished from their repertoire for good. As curfew time approached, the main set wound up with a nice electric version of “Uncle John’s Band.” The encore consisted of a dynamic twofer of “St. Stephen” charging into “Casey Jones.” This show was notable for me as the only 1970 Dead show that I was able to hear all the way to the end although, as fate would have it, I missed its beginning.

Two months later, the Dead announced an early week August run back at the Fillmore West (this time a full “Evening with the Dead with no support other than the NRPS), and I convinced my brother, home from college for the summer, to go up with me for the Wednesday, 8/19/70, show. Contrary to the report in Deadlists, there was no opening bluegrass group unless they played well before the 8 PM start time. By August, the Dead’s acoustic sets had become more arranged and complex, with an acoustic piano onstage and an extended segment featuring Dawson and Nelson from the New Riders. The band was recording American Beauty concurrently with the Fillmore run, and thus it was no surprise that the show featured a good chunk of material from that album, along with a good selection of traditional folk and blues tunes.

Acoustic Dead 8.19.70 Photo: M. Parrish
Weir kicked things off with “Monkey and the Engineer,” a tune he learned (along with “Beat It On Down the Line”) from Oakland one man band Jesse Fuller. Garcia came back with the traditional “How Long Blues” augmented by some gospel tinged piano. The keyboardist was not clearly visible from my vantage point (or in the photos), but my thesis is that some of the piano was played by Ned Lagin (who was visiting the Dead from back east that summer and played on American Beauty), and the rest was played by Pigpen. "Friend of the Devil" was composed by John Dawson, Jerry Garcia, and Robert Hunter in late 1969, and became a hallmark of the Dead’s acoustic sets from late February. Friend of the Devil had entered the acoustic dead repertoire early on, but was much more polished in its incarnation that evening, thanks in part to the addition of the piano part. Weir, whose compositions on American Beauty consisted of "Sugar Magnolia" and a co-writing credit on “Truckin,” dipped back into the public domain for the bluegrass chestnut “Dark Hollow.”

8.19.70: Acoustic Dead - Kreutzmann, Nelson, Garcia, Weir Photo: M. Parrish

Another Garcia-Hunter ballad, “Candyman” had shown up in March, and formed the first part of a three song medley of American Beauty tunes, rounded out by the combo of “Brokedown Palace” and “Ripple,” merged the way they are on the album. These two songs made their live debut that weekend, and "Ripple" flowed effortlessly out of "Brokedown Palace." Curiously, this pairing was apparently abandoned as an in-concert vehicle following the August Fillmore run.  Best known as an electric tune, “Truckin” had debuted in the Dead’s repertoire as an acoustic shuffle the night before, and was performed that way in concert through September, first emerging as an electric piece at the 10/4/70 Winterland gig. The acoustic version was predictably more concise than the expansive versions that emerged in later years, but was a good vehicle for what was essentially a story song.

The brisk workout on another traditional tune, “Cocaine Blues” was sung energetically by Garcia, and ornamented by some very fine mandolin work from David Nelson. Nelson was also instrumental in driving along Garcia’s version of another bluegrass standard, “Rosalie McFall.” Next Garcia switched to electric for a couple of tunes, “Wake Up Little Suzie” and “New Speedway Boogie,” which also featured piano work that I believe is too nimble to be attributed to Pigpen. 

Gospel Quartet 8.19.70 Photo: M. Parrish
To close out the extended acoustic set, Nelson returned, along with John Dawson, to fill out a bluegrass gospel quartet for a couple of sweetly sung sacred tunes, “Cold Jordan” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”

These shows and the September runs at the Fillmore East were arguably the pinnacle of the Dead’s acoustic sets. They had experimented with entire unplugged shows in San Diego on August 5 and at the Family Dog back in March, but the decision was ultimately made, possibly for logistical reasons, to scale back the frequency of the acoustic opening sets as the year progressed, and they were gone entirely by year’s end, replaced by the familiar format of one or two long electric sets.

After a short break, the New Riders were given a nice long set, comprising some new Dawson material including “I Don’t Know You,” “Last Lonely Eagle,” and “Dirty Business,” which was a showcase for some spectacularly outside Garcia steel playing. By this time, Dawson was sporting a beard, and had traded his Guild acoustic for a Fender Telecaster. 

During the acoustic set, Bob Weir had launched into one of his shaggy dog stories, this time dealing with an encounter with a particularly vicious “Kodiak Woodchuck.” In response to that story, an unidentified emcee introduced the Dead’s electric set with the following into “Out of the wilds of Marin County, sometimes known as the Kodiak Woodchuck Motherfuckers – the Grateful Dead!” Once again, the slow, funky arrangement of “Cold Rain and Snow” kicked off the set, followed by “Me and My Uncle” and “Easy Wind.” 

Garcia and Lesh 8.19.70 Photo: M. Parrish
My brother, who had a summer job at Hewlett-Packard, decided we had to leave at that point. Fortunately, an intrepid audience taper recorded the show, so I know that I missed a unique pairing of “St. Stephen” and an embryonic “Sugar Magnolia” as well as a set closing “Not Fade Away”/”Lovelight” medley featuring guest David Crosby. Unfortunately, this was to be the last time I saw the Dead proper in a live venue during 1970, although I did keep up with their progress during the TV/Radio broadcasts on 8/30/70 (Calebration), 10/4/70, and New Year’s Eve. In retrospect, I wish I could have seen a few more shows from that year, but I was happy to have seen the five I got to attend, and am grateful for the extensive audio archive available from 1970 for the Dead.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

New Riders of the Purple Sage at Peninsula School 5/12/70 and 5/28/71

Peninsula School is a progressive, private K-12 school located in Menlo Park, California. Founded in 1925,  Peninsula is located in a huge Victorian house on wooded grounds in the eastern part of Menlo Park, just off Middlefield Road. As a junior in high school in Palo Alto, I had never heard of the school until I saw a hand lettered sign at Menlo Park’s Discount Records announcing a Tuesday afternoon gig by the New Riders of the Purple Sage there in April, 1970 (the most likely date appears to be 4/28/70). Because I was not yet of driving age, I rode up there after school on my bike.

Members of the Grateful Dead family had multiple connections to Peninsula School. Bob Weir, John “Marmaduke” Dawson, and recording engineer Bob Matthews all attended the school at various times, and Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter apparently played their first gig there back in 1961. A useful discussion of the school and its shared history with the Dead can be found here.

I had known about Garcia’s flirtations with the pedal steel for some time, largely through its appearance on tunes like CSNY’s “Teach Your Children,” the Airplane tune, “The Farm,” and the album version of “Dire Wolf” on Workingman’s Dead. I was also well aware of Garcia’s musical collusion with a character known as “Marmaduke” through frequent listings in newspaper calendars for “Marmaduke and Friends” which over time had morphed into listings for “The New Riders of the Purple Sage.” There was also a demo tape (later released on an NRPS album, Before Time Began) comprising early versions of “Superman” and “Garden of Eden” that featured Garcia’s loopy steel licks that got very infrequent airplay on KSAN, but that was about all I knew of them. I had tried to see the NRPS late the previous year when they were allegedly billed at the Poppycock in downtown Palo Alto, but they turned out to be no-shows the night they listed in the newspaper ad. The ad for the Peninsula show listed “Jerry Garcia, Mickey Hart, Bob Weir and others from the Grateful Dead,” but Weir was a no-show unless he arrived after I left.

Garcia as Roadie 4/28/70
Photo: M. Parrish
When I arrived at Peninsula, parked my bike, and ponied up my $3. I joined a modest crowd (certainly less than 100 people who mingled on the playground beside the school. The bands set up in a handball court of all places, and there was no backstage whatever. In retrospect, this probably would have been my best chance ever to strike up a conversation with Garcia, who was holding forth with what clearly were a bunch of old friends, but I was far too shy to do so.

Opening Act 4/28/70 Photo: M. Parrish
The New Riders were preceded by another band that played some free jazz with rock overtones. I have no idea who they were, and they didn’t leave much of an impression. Once they had finished, the Riders started to set up, and I was struck by the fact that Garcia, with no road crew in sight, assembled his own pedal steel.

NRPS 4/28/70 Photo: M. Parrish
Recent speculations suggest that the configuration of the New Riders that recorded their first album had most likely only been together a few weeks at the time of this show. Nonetheless, their mutual connections went back several years, to the dawn of the San Francisco rock scene. Garcia and guitarist David Nelson were bluegrass buddies who first started playing together back in the 1961 or so. Dawson, a bit younger, had also been part of the south bay folk-bluegrass scene, and was apparently a sometime member of Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions, the jug band that spawned the Dead in 1964. Nelson had relatively recently played with bassist David Torbert in the mysterious New Delhi River Band, and succeeded the Dead’s lyricist Robert Hunter, their bassist Phil Lesh, and their recording engineer Bob Matthews in the NRPS bass slot. Dead drummer Mickey Hart held down the drum chair as he would do until the end of the year, when he would cede it to Spencer Dryden.

Garcia on Steel 4/28/70 Photo: M. Parrish
The New Riders began their set with an energetic version of Chuck Berry’s “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” sung by the diminutive, mustachioed Dawson, center stage (or racketball court), who kept time with his Guild acoustic guitar. This was my first encounter with lead guitarist David Nelson, and his Nashville licks from his hot-rodded Telecaster were as much a defining element of the early New Riders as Garcia’s inimitable take on the pedal steel. Bassist Dave Torbert, presumably only a few weeks into his term in the band, was still a tentative presence, playing solid bass and adding harmony vocals when the occasion demanded. Off to stage right was Hart, wearing a Giant’s cap and the epitome of a laid back drummer, in sharp contrast to his often furious onstage presence with the Dead.  Wedged in between Hart and Dawson was Garcia, rapturously hunched over his pedal steel and sporting a few days of growth towards the latest incarnation of his trademark beard.

Mickey Hart 4/28/70 Photo: M. Parrish
I don’t have a detailed set list for the show, but it did feature a number of Dawson originals, including ”Henry,” “Louisiana Lady,” and “Glendale Train” alongside country classics like “Truck Drivin’ Man,” “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, and Loud, Loud Music” and “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down.” As the afternoon shadows grew long, I had to beat a retreat back to Palo Alto, so I don’t know just how long the Riders played, or what other gems they might have pulled out.

Thirteen months later, the New Riders were again booked to play at Peninsula, for a Friday afternoon gig preceding their much more substantial payday at Winterland later in the evening. I was scheduled to attend the Dead/NRPS show that evening, but couldn’t resist the opportunity to see the band in this intimate setting once more. For the 1971 gig, the powers that be at Peninsula had the bands set up on the deck at the front of the main building of the school. Again, a relatively obscure rock band opened the show. With a nod to Garcia, they opened their set with a speedy rendition of the Dead’s first album arrangement of “Cold Rain and Snow.”

Marmaduke 5/28/71 Photo: M. Parrish
New Riders 5/28/71 Photo M. Parrish
When the Riders set up, consipuous in its absence was Garcia’s pedal steel rig. Once the band took the stage, we were informed that Garcia was under the weather and had chosen to rest up for the evening’s show rather than schlepping down to Menlo Park for a few hours. Thus we heard one of the very few New Riders gigs of that era without a pedal steel player. By this time, I had probably heard the New Riders a half dozen times, and their afternoon set held few surprises other than the absence of their steel guitarist. Dawson was shaggier, and was now playing electric rather than acoustic guitar. Spencer Dryden was a dynamic presence on drums, and Torbert was a much more commanding presence on bass and vocals. Because of the logistics involved in going home, picking up my dad, and driving to Winterland, I again missed the end of the Riders set. The drive up to the city turned out to be for naught, as Garcia’s illness had deepened, and the Friday Dead show was cancelled and rescheduled until Sunday evening. We did get to the Sunday show, missing the legendary Saturday show where much of the audience was dosed by some spiked Kool Aid. As far as I know, the 1971 gig was the last time the New Riders played at Peninsula School, and Garcia’s tenure with the band was only to last a few more months. These two shows provided great opportunities to hear the group up close, in their formative stages as a touring entity.