Friday, November 14, 2014

Grateful Dead Contribution To The Space Program (Avalon Ballroom 1966)

The iconic Kelly/Mouse poster for the Avalon Ballroom concerts of September 16-17, 1966, featuring the Grateful Dead and the Oxford Circle
We tend to assume that the Internet is a sort of permanent repository, with the Cloud somehow synonymous with the Firmament itself, so that things once there will be there forever. In reality, that is not the case. When the broadband Internet became easily accessible at the end of the 20th Century, all sorts of fascinating material appeared there, but all of it is not necessarily there today. As a result, some pieces of history that were easily accessible are far less so now. In the spirit of preservation, this post will recognize the Grateful Dead's unexpected contribution to NASA and the Space Program--no, not the search for a Dark Star--but it will depend mostly on my memory. There are sure to be omissions and errors, so anyone with corrections, insights or links should be sure to include them in the Comments.

Modern rock concert history began in early 1966. After the success of the Family Dog dances in late 1965, and Trips Festival at Longshoreman's Hall in January 1966, Bill Graham and Chet Helms partnered up to provide the "Sights and Sounds Of The Trip Festival", as a February 1966 poster for a Bill Graham produced Jefferson Airplane concert put it. Thus the modern rock concert industry was born. All we see today at the local arena stems from this genesis.

Yet Bill Graham and Chet Helms, though perfectly matched, were an inherently uneasy partnership. Within six weeks, they had parted company. On April 22, 1966, Helms opened up a competitor to the Fillmore, the legendary Avalon Ballroom at 1268 Sutter Street. Although the Fillmore remained hugely popular, the Avalon instantly grabbed the attention of the hippest of the underground, and the bands preferred to play the Avalon, even if Graham's Fillmore operation actually paid better. The tension between the popular, profitable Fillmore and the hip, artistic Avalon was what gave San Francisco its dynamic cachet. While the Fillmore may have capitalized on various innovations at the Avalon, the twin success meant that playing San Francisco was a viable proposition for the newly-formed psychedelic San Francisco programs.

Still---everyone knows the story of the Beats, LSD, the Fillmore, the Avalon, the Dead and the Airplane, and all that came after. Where does NASA fit into this?

The first Family Dog concerts at the Avalon Ballroom were April 22-23, 1966, featuring The Blues Project and The Great Society. Grace Slick was a member of The Great Society at the time.

Bob Cohen and The Avalon
Chet Helms' original deal with Bill Graham was that they would alternate weekend promotions at the Fillmore Auditorium, while sharing what would now be called "creative capital." Graham ran his shows professionally and knew how to make them pay, but he knew nothing about rock music nor the community coming to the shows. Helms was a visionary, who recognized that rock music would thrive in what would now be called a "performing environment." Each Helms show had a theme, with staging and lights to match, and the poster promoted the theme of the show. Since no one had actually heard of the bands--they mostly hadn't recorded anything--such innovations were critical.

According to legend, it was Chet Helms who knew to book the mighty Paul Butterfield Blues Band in February 1966--Graham had no idea. Yet when Graham saw how the band went over, he woke up early and called Butterfield's manager (Albert Grossman) and made an exclusive deal for the next several months, thus cutting Helms out of potentially lucrative bookings. Helms promptly took steps to leave the Fillmore to Graham, and found his own unused big band ballroom. The Avalon Ballroom on Sutter and Van Ness had been relatively dormant for many years, but it wasn't far from either downtown or the Haight-Ashbury, so Helms opened his own psychedelic palace.

Helms had the insight and connections to the rock bands, and he was good at finding themes and artists to render them. He couldn't do everything, though. Helms' key partner at the Avalon Ballroom was one Bob Cohen. Cohen had somehow learned something about audio technology, I believe in the Air Force. In the late 50s and early 60s, with the draft omnipresent yet no wars looming, many young men chose to enlist in the service of their choice rather than suffer through the grunt duty of infantry as an Army GI. The Air Force had a reputation as a place where there were a lot of interesting electronics happening, and many famous and infamous 60s sound technicians had Air Force backgrounds (Augustus Owsley Stanley III, just to name one, was in the Air Force in the '50s, as were Mickey Hart and Tom Constanten somewhat later).

Bob Cohen put together the sound system at the Avalon, and I believe that the Avalon was the first Bay Area venue with a house system truly equipped for loud, psychedelic rock. Among Cohen's many innovations were putting a sound man out in the crowd with a mixing board. We take this for granted today--a high school play has a house sound man now--but it was basically unknown prior to the Avalon.

Cohen was also an innovator in providing monitor systems for bands. In the early days of rock, guitarists played through their amplifiers, and singers sang through microphones connected to some sort of 'house' PA system, and it often sounded terrible. Cohen improved the situation by providing a house system of amplifiers that both reinforced the guitars and provided sound for the singers. By mixing the vocals from the center of the floor, the sound was probably pretty good by modern standards. By ancient standards, it was probably incredible, which may account for the ecstatic responses of people who went to see bands at the Avalon in the early days, as they could actually hear the musicians play and sing.

However, though Cohen may have been the first to insure that rock crowds could always hear the bands, the bands themselves could hardly hear themselves. Cohen typically mixed the sound from out in the crowd, but he also had the idea to put amplifiers on stage for the band so that they could hear themselves. He then added a soundman on stage, to mix the monitor sound for the band, so they could more or less hear what they were putting out. Cohen even had an in-house intercom system, so he could talk to his monitor guy on stage and the lighting director overhead, to keep everything coordinated. I expect the intercom technology was standard for the Air Force, but it was new stuff in the entertainment industry.

No doubt there were other, similar experiments in different parts of the country, but the Avalon was the first major venue where the hall sound was designed for loud rock, and suitable equipment was in place so that the audience and bands could really hear what was being laid down. No wonder everyone from 1966 remembers the Avalon.

The Grateful Dead played their first Family Dog show at the Avalon on May 28, 1966, along with The Leaves and The Grassroots (they did not play on Friday May 27--in between "Graeful" and "Dead" on the poster, it says "SAT ONLY")

Enter The Grateful Dead
Bob Cohen's sound system at the Avalon Ballroom was ahead of its time. The audience could hear the band clearly, the band could hear themselves, and that only made it better. Combined with the light show and Chet Helms' artistic concept of a complete environment, the Avalon pretty much defined the rock concert experience that we know today. All the local bands, most of them unknown outside of San Francisco, were hot to play the Avalon. The Grateful Dead were no exception.

The Grateful Dead's first show at the Avalon was on May 19, 1966. This show was not actually a Family Dog show, but rather a benefit for the Straight Theater. It is strange to think that the Avalon was hosting a benefit for the Straight, which was trying to open as a competitor, but such was 1966 San Francisco. The Dead's first proper Family Dog show was on May 28, 1966, paired with The Leaves and The Grass Roots. The Dead came back two weeks later, to play Friday and Saturday, June 10 and 11, 1966, with the Quicksilver Messenger Service and Oregon's New Tweedy Brothers.

According to a web post on Bob Cohen's own site, which appears to have since been deleted, Cohen's new system of having a soundman on stage to mix the band while he mixed the sound in the house ran into a problem. Unlike every other band at the time, the Dead had their own sound reinforcement system, financed and built by Owsley and his assistant Tim Scully. By modern standards, the stacks of amplifiers used by the Dead were probably not that big, but in 1966 they were new beasts entirely.

The 1966 Grateful Dead were loud, louder than anyone had ever heard. Now, I don't think the Dead were louder than Blue Cheer, Lee Michaels, Grand Funk, Deep Purple and all that would come after them, but for '66 they blew people's ears out. No one had ever heard anything like it. That included Bob Cohen.

There were two big problems with the Dead at the Avalon. The first was that their stack of amplifiers was so high, it blocked the screens where the light show was displayed. This problem was solved rather easily by putting white sheets over the amp stack, so the light show could simply project onto that. If anything, this looked even better, so everybody was satisfied. Somewhat informally, this also started a tradition for the Dead of decorating their sound system as part of the stage set, although ultimately that would have happened anyway. I have always assumed that the Dead played the Avalon in May with their big stacks, and came back in June with the white sheets.

The Grateful Dead returned to the Avalon on the weekend of August 19-20, 1966, after playing on May 28 and June 10-11. My estimate is that Bob Cohen solved his biggest problem with the Dead by the time of these shows.
The Other Problem
However, the other problem was harder to solve. The Dead were shockingly loud by 1966 standards, because no other band had their own sound system. The guitarists in other bands played through their own amps, but they didn't have electronic geniuses (and troublemakers) like Owsley and Scully providing a tower of top-of-the-line audio equipment to pump out the sound even further. This caused a different problem for Bob Cohen.

At the Avalon, Cohen had worked out the basics of what we now take for granted about rock and roll presentation--stage monitor, house mixer and light show, all electronically linked by an intercom. We take this for granted now without thinking about it, but it all came from Cohen. However, the Dead upended the equation--they were so loud that Cohen could not communicate with his monitor man nor his lighting director. All communication was drowned out by the Grateful Dead's electric thunder.

Cohen must have seen the future, however. Rock and roll was getting louder, not quieter, and the Dead's noisy amp stack was just the shape of things to come. You know how when you're at the Airport news stand and you see the big headphone set that says "Noise Canceling Headphones"? And you buy them, and put them on, and you can listen to your iPod in peace on the plane without being drowned out by jet engines or the chatty jerk in the seat in front of you? Aren't they great? Bob Cohen invented those, too, so he could talk on the intercom to his crew while the Dead were playing "Caution" or something, with Owsley's sound system turned up to 11.

I don't know the exact timing of Cohen's invention. I have always assumed that when the Dead played the Avalon in May and June of 1966, it must have taken Cohen a little while to figure out the solution. I assume that, if Cohen had the Air Force background that I recall, there may have been some existing technology to piggy-back on top of, but even so it must have taken a little while to figure out, and then rig up the crew. However, the Grateful Dead were back at the Avalon on August 19-20, 1966, and I'll bet Cohen had his newly-invented noise canceling headphones up and running by then.

Space-The Final Frontier
Bob Cohen founded a company called Clear-Com, which seems to have provided intercom systems that were geared to loud rock concert environments. As rock concerts got bigger and louder, with more and more crew distributed over larger arenas, Cohen's innovations were particularly critical. According to my memory of Cohen's now deleted web pages, however, that Cohen sold his patent for Noise Canceling Headphones to NASA. Regardless of whether the sale was directly to NASA, or whether it was some indirect relationship, NASA was one of the few businesses for whom a noisy version of "Caution" was not that loud. They had a critical need for noise cancelling headphones, and per the legend Cohen was the provider of the patent. And all because the Grateful Dead were too loud for Cohen to hear his crew on the house intercom.

The album cover for Vintage Dead, released in 1970 on Sunflower Records, an MGM subsidiary. The album featured tracks from an uncertain 1966 Avalon show. For fans in the 70s who had never seen the band back in the day, it was the first whiff of what the early Dead had sounded like.

Aftermath
The Avalon closed in December 1968. Chet Helms went on to numerous other concert ventures, but Cohen seems to have focused on Clear-Com and the technology side of the business. Although he did little studio work that I'm aware of, Cohen did produce the first, fantastic album for Commander Cody And His Lost Planet Airmen for ABC/Paramount in 1971 (Lost In The Ozone). Wonderful as that record was, however, it was all the more remarkable given that, according to the Airmen, Cohen didn't like country music that much.

Cohen fortunately had shown the foresight to tape the performers at the Avalon. Around about 1970, he approached various record companies about doing a series of albums made up of recordings from the early days of the Avalon. Since Cohen had recorded these bands before they had contracts, the rights to these recordings would be open to negotiation. Cohen made some sort of deal with MGM Records for some Grateful Dead recordings, but somehow the entire deal went south. Cohen angrily withdrew his tapes. However, MGM used a dub of Cohen's tape and released the albums Vintage Dead and Historic Dead anyway, in 1970 and '71, on the MGM subsidiary label Sunflower.

Although Vintage Dead and Historic Dead were the first 1966 Grateful Dead that was heard by anyone who wasn't there, and revelatory when they were released, they were still frustrating albums. I don't quite know if the Dead were originally on board with the project or not. I do know that Rock Scully apparently went to a meeting with MGM execs with a huge electromagnet in his pocket, in the hopes of ruining the dubbed tape, but it didn't work. Cohen was so disgusted by the whole experience that he actually destroyed the original tapes, presumably to prevent MGM from getting possession through a lawsuit. This would explain why the complete tapes of the Vintage/Historic Dead lps have never surfaced--they're gone. We don't even really know if the tapes were from September 16-17, 1966-that was just the poster used on the Vintage Dead lp, and given MGM's history that's hardly a confirmation (the best guess seems to be Avalon shows on December 23-24, 1966).

The cover to the 1996 Sundazed cd Oxford Circle Live At The Avalon 1966, a wonderful album made from Bob Cohen's tapes
Cohen seems to have focused on Clear-Com, and finally retired in 1998, leaving Clear-Com to thrive without him. Last I heard, Bob Cohen lives in the hills of Oakland, perhaps near the house on Ascot Drive where Owsley and his cohorts used to plan to reorganize the world. Supposedly he has a basement full of tapes from the Avalon, clean and epic and one of a kind. Before you get too excited, remember that Cohen has said that at various times the members of the Dead crew interfered with his efforts to tape the Dead, so I don't necessarily think he has any long-lost Dead tapes.

But if you're interested in the Avalon itself, well--that's a different matter. In 1996, there was an amazing cd release of an Avalon show by a band called The Oxford Circle, and they absolutely rocked. Blasting through a first of its kind sound system, with the light show blazing, and the 60s in full flower, it wouldn't have mattered that they were a relatively unknown band from Davis, CA. In that sense, Bob Cohen is what we all hope to find, not just an innovator, but one who documents his best work. If you're up on Skyline Boulevard, and you can hear a fuzzy guitar emanating from somewhere, maybe it's not some imitation, but an actual window into the past as it once was.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Stanford Landmark Guide (So Many Roads II)

998 San Antonio Road, Palo Alto, in August 2009. This is the building that housed The Big Beat, site of the December 1965 Acid Test.
So Many Roads
Grateful Dead Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Stanford Landmark Guide
The So Many Roads Grateful Dead Conference on November 5-8, 2014 will be a celebration of the history and legacy of the Grateful Dead. The Conference is jointly hosted by San Jose State University and the University of California at Santa Cruz. Although the two universities are separated by the Santa Cruz Mountains, they are less than 25 miles apart. While the Grateful Dead are rightly recognized worldwide as a San Francisco band, the counties south of San Francisco played a huge part in Dead history as well.

Grateful Dead fans who visit the Bay Area don't always realize how near they often are to various sites where the Grateful Dead or its members performed, or at least plotted world domination. In honor of the So Many Roads conference, I am going to rectify this by writing posts that identify important sites in Grateful Dead history in geographic areas. I began this series with a post about the Grateful Dead's history in Santa Cruz County. I have recently completed a similar post about San Jose and the South Bay, and this post will be about landmarks in Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Stanford University.

The "South Bay" Versus "The Peninsula"
The county just south of San Francisco is San Mateo County, running along San Francisco Bay from South San Francisco to Menlo Park. Just South of the Menlo Park line, Santa Clara County runs from Palo Alto to San Jose to Gilroy and beyond. Back in the 60s and 70s, and perhaps still, residents of most of the towns in San Mateo County along the Bay refer to their region as "The Peninsula." San Jose and some of its nearby suburban towns, like Santa Clara and Cupertino, were referred to as "The South Bay." Palo Alto residents, however, despite being part of Santa Clara County, generally thought of themselves as part of "The Peninsula." Palo Alto does have an outlet on San Francisco Bay, but the primary reason that Palo Alto assigned itself to the Peninsula and not the South Bay was snobbery towards San Jose.

Palo Alto was invented out of thin air by railroad magnate Leland Stanford in 1875, who needed a town to host his planned University. He offered to let the town of Mayfield be the host, on the condition that they close their saloons (Mayfield was situated on what is now California Avenue in Palo Alto). Mayfield refused. So Stanford and his partner Timothy Hopkins bought up all the land between Menlo Park and Mayfield, and built up the town of Palo Alto. The no-saloons rule was written into the Palo Alto city charter.

Downtown Palo Alto generally thrived until the 1950s. By 1950, Stanford University, land-rich but cash poor, needed to do something to generate income, and developed the Stanford Shopping Center just across El Camino Real. The stores in Downtown Palo Alto steadily declined for the next 40 years. In the 1960s, the area was the province of funky bohemians like Jerry Garcia and his friends, since rents were cheap. There were some restaurants that served beer, but still no bars. At the same time, Menlo Park provided an equally cheap, if unheralded, alternative, while Stanford University provided at least the faint whiff of bohemian life as well.


An ad for The Big Beat from the San Mateo Times, June 24, 1966.
The Big Beat, 998 San Antonio Road, Palo Alto, CA 94303
One of the principal events in the founding of the Grateful Dead was Ken Kesey's Acid Test at the Big Beat Club in Palo Alto on December 18, 1965 (I do not subscribe to the timeline that locates the Big Beat event on December 11). Tom Wolfe wrote about it in Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and among many other remarkable events it was where Owsley Stanley introduced manager Rock Scully to the Grateful Dead, and where Hugh Romney--known today as Wavy Gravy--first got on the bus, too. However, the location or even the nature of The Big Beat club remained shrouded in mystery. As a Palo Alto native, I found it odd that such a seminal location had gotten lost in the mists of time. A search of the regular sources (Dennis McNally, Rock Scully, etc) did not reveal the location, and indeed there were many contradictions. I have been in email contact with people who attended the event, and they themselves could not recall the exact location of The Big Beat.

Determined newspaper research finally revealed the location of The Big Beat (the article and ad above are from the June 24, 1966 edition of the San Mateo Times). I was even more startled to go to the actual site and discover that the building at 998 San Antonio Road, Palo Alto, pictured above in my photo (from August 7, 2009), apparently remained intact. While the well-kept building was vacant, it still looked  very much like the 1960s pizza parlor and dance club where the Dead played an acid test.

San Antonio Road was in the far Southeast corner of Palo Alto, quite far from Stanford University and the bohemian downtown scene that had spawned Jerry Garcia, Joan Baez and others. In fact the location of the club, in a then-deserted industrial district near Highway 101, insured that most of the customers probably came from Mountain View, Los Altos and Sunnyvale as much as Palo Alto. The groups featured were local combos who played dance music, probably with a mixture of British Invasion, Surf and R&B (i.e. Motown) covers. The focus would have been on dancing and meeting members of the opposite sex, with beer and music for lubrication [Palo Alto geographical note: San Antonio Road is actually the frontage road off the larger San Antonio Avenue, and you have to access San Antonio Road from East Charleston].

Ironically enough, The Big Beat's lasting fame came the weekend before it opened, when Ken Kesey's crew rented the place for a party, and The Grateful Dead played at The Acid Test. Hard as it may seem to grasp today, LSD was perfectly legal, and people drank electrified kool-aid and raved the night away. The cops did not like Kesey's Pranksters, and when they found out about an event they hovered around, hoping to bust people for pot (then a serious felony), but LSD use itself was legal and open.

While it was startling to find The Big Beat intact after 46 years, I was fortunate to get there when I did: by the end of the Summer of 2011, the building had been torn down. Sic transit gloria psychedelia.

Downtown Palo Alto
This section of the post is organized as an East-to-West walking tour. The sites are close together since, rather unlike Jerry's day, it's difficult to drive and impossible to park in Downtown P.A. What is striking is to note how close together all these places were, an indication of how tightly knit the little scene really was.

Hamilton Street House, 436 Hamilton Ave near Waverley St, Palo Alto, CA 94301
After the Chateau's landlord stopped taking on new boarders in 1963, much of the crew moved to "The Hamilton Street House." It was a crumbling old Victorian at 436 Hamilton Avenue (not Street), near Waverley Street. Hunter, Nelson and many others in the crew lived there, and it became a regular hangout for Garcia and others (Garcia knew the house because former girlfriend Phoebe Grabuard had lived there). The house has long since been torn down. The Wells Fargo Bank at that location surely replaced it and many other buildings.

The site of the house on Gilman Street and Hamilton Avenue, behind the old Post Office, where Jerry Garcia, David Nelson and others first dropped acid in 1965, is now a parking lot. The Palo Alto Farmers Market is held there, with no apparent ill effects.
Gilman Street House, Gilman St between Hamilton Ave and Forest Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94301
In early 1965, Jerry, Sara and Heather Garcia lived on Bryant Court, next to Johnson Park and near downtown. But Nelson, Rick Shubb and others moved to another old house, which they refer to as "The Gilman Street House." This was where Garcia and others first took LSD. The house was behind the old Post Office, and it too has long since been torn down. It is now a parking lot, and the site of the Palo Alto Farmer's Market. The Warlocks were formed when Nelson and Shubb lived in the Gilman Street House.

The site of the "Waverley Street House" (probably 661 Waverley), where Jerry and Sara Garcia, Rick Shubb and others moved in late 1965, after the Gilman Street House, has long since been replaced by a condo development.
Waverley Street House, 661 Waverley Street, Palo Alto, CA 94301
When the Gilman Street House was no longer viable, Rick Shubb took a lease on a house on Waverley Street, near Forest Avenue. The address was probably 661 Waverley Street. I recall this house from 1969. It was massive and painted purple and it had at least two turrets rising on either side of the house (I asked my architect father if we could have turrets in our house, but he said "no"). It was quite a striking structure amidst the tiny downtown houses and modest commercial establishments.

Jerry and Sara Garcia were tenants in the Waverley Street House when the Warlocks started to play El Camino Real, and when the Grateful Dead were formed. Members of The New Delhi River Band, including David Nelson, lived a few blocks away on Channing Avenue. How much time the perpetually wandering Jerry actually spent at Waverley Street remains obscure, but the Waverley Street house was his residence in late '65/early '66, until the Dead moved to Los Angeles with Owsley.

You should always go to Peet's when you need coffee. If you go to the one on 436 University Avenue in Palo Alto, you'll be at the site of St. Michael's Alley, where Garcia and Hunter first cemented their friendship in 1961.
St. Micheal's Alley, 436 University Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94301
Downtown Palo Alto's first true bohemian establishment was a coffee shop that served espresso, called St. Michael's Alley. Besides espresso, it also had folk music. It appealed to Lockheed engineers living in Palo Alto who wanted a bit of culture. All the bohemians hung out there, too, because you could nurse a 50-cent cup of coffee all night. When Jerry Garcia met Robert Hunter at the theater where Garcia did the lights (The Commedia Del'Arte, probably at Emerson and Hamilton), they went out the next night to St. Michael's Alley. Garcia, Hunter and Alan Trist raved until closing time, although they probably bought nothing.

Robert Hunter was a dishwasher at St. Michael's Alley at one point. The Warlocks actually auditioned for a gig there, but owner Vernon Gates thought they were terrible. There had been a pot bust in 1964, obviously a kind of police sting, and many of the Lockheed engineers could no longer go to St. Michael's Alley because they were afraid of losing their security clearances. The remaining patrons like Garcia and Hunter, obviously not afraid of losing their clearances, never actually bought much, and the coffee shop had to close in 1966. Gates re-opened St. Michael's Alley a few blocks away, at 800 Emerson Street (near Homer Avenue), in 1973, as one of downtown's first "nice" restaurants. He said that the patrons were the same people as before, but by this time, they had money. The new St. Michael's Alley occasionally had music, and Robert Hunter even played there once in 1980.

Today, the site of the original St. Michael's Alley at 436 University Avenue (at Kipling) is a Peet's Coffee. Peet's, of course, is the destination of all discerning coffee drinkers anyway, so stop off for a Triple Espresso and hang out, remembering that one night long ago when two bearded young guys spent the whole night there thinking about what the world might bring.

The rear of 534 Bryant Street in Palo Alto (in a parking lot facing Ramona Street). On New Year's Eve 1963, Bob Weir and Bob Matthews heard banjo music from the back of Dana Morgan Music, as Jerry Garcia idly picked away, wondering why his students weren't showing up.
Dana Morgan Music, 534 Bryant, Palo Alto, CA 94301
There were several music stores in downtown Palo Alto, serving student, amateur and professional musicians. Jerry Garcia gave guitar and banjo lessons at Dana Morgan Music, and Bob Weir gave lessons too, at 534 Bryant Street,  between University and Hamilton Avenues. Dana Morgan's son was the first bassist of The Warlocks, and his presence insured that the band could borrow instruments and amplifiers from the store without actually paying for them. However, Dana Morgan Jr was not a particularly good bass player, so the Warlocks replaced him with another guy. 

There was a back entrance to the Dana Morgan store, in an alley backed onto Ramona Street. Long after Dana Morgan Music had closed, the parking lot behind it had a painted sign for the back entrance that said "Dana Morgan Music," stenciled like a "No Parking Sign." This marked the spot on New Year's Eve 1963 when Bob Weir and Bob Matthews heard banjo music coming from the back of the store, and wondered who was playing. It was Jerry Garcia of course, wondering why his banjo students weren't showing up. Weir and Garcia's meeting, among many other things, led directly to this blog.

Dana Morgan himself was never that comfortable with his role in Grateful Dead history. Dana Morgan Jr seems to have died young, and that may have played a part. At some point, I forget when, Dana Morgan retired and the store closed. The site is now a Duxiana Luxury Bed Store.

The restored Stanford Theater in 2011, in far better shape than when Bob Weir and Kingfish played there on New Year's Eve 1974 (and again on September 13, 1975)
Stanford Music Hall, 221 University Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94301
The Stanford Theater was a downtown movie theater, opened in 1925. It was near Ramona Street, and not far from Dana Morgan Music. By 1974, the rundown old hall had a brief run as a concert venue. Bob Weir and Kingfish played there on New Year's Eve, 1974, and again on September 13, 1975. The theater has since been restored and converted back to its old use as The Stanford Theater

The New Riders of The Purple Sage are advertised for a Thursday night at The Poppycock in Palo Alto, at 135 University Avenue, in November 1969
The Poppycock, 135 University Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94301
The Poppycock had a critical role in Palo Alto rock history, though only a trivial one in Jerry Garcia history. A few doors East of the Tangent, on the corner of University and High Street, The Poppycock opened as a Fish and Chips joint in 1967 (this counted as exotic cuisine at the time). Since it could serve beer, and there were no bars, it was sort of a hippie hangout. The Poppycock soon became a miniature concert venue, and the groups that played The Matrix or The New Orleans House played The Poppycock as well. The New Riders Of The Purple Sage were booked there at least twice in November 1969 (although they may have canceled one those gigs).

The Poppycock became a jazz club called In Your Ear in 1971, and it burned down in 1972. The rebuilt structure has served a variety of commercial purposes since then.

The considerably remodeled site of The Tangent, on 117 University Avenue (at Alma Circle), as it appeared in 2011. At the time, it was s still a pleasant dive sports bar called Rudy's.
The Top Of The Tangent, 117 University Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94301
The Tangent was a deli and pizza joint at the end of University Avenue, almost at Alma Street, and very near the train station. In January 1963, two bored doctors financed a "folk club" in a room above the deli. It was known as The Top Of The Tangent. The little room, seating perhaps 75, presented performers on Friday and Saturday nights. Wednesday was hoot night, and some of the better hoot participants got to open for the visiting acts on weekends. Bob Weir and some friends debuted on a hoot night (as The Uncalled Four). Remarkably, in the Summer of '65, The Warlocks played hoot night a few times, as they had nowhere else to play, and there was no actual prohibition to playing electric.

For many years, 117 University was a pleasant sort of dive sports bar called Rudy's, but it closed around 2013. Access to the actual Top Of The Tangent now appears to be through the doorway to 119 University Avenue, right next to 117, but clearly part of the same building. For some time, 119 University was headquarters of a company called MindTribe, which seems appropriate for the location. Continuing the theme, MindTribe seems to have moved to San Francisco after a few years.


No trace whatsoever remains of the dilapidated warehouses behind the Town And Country Village Shopping Center, where Homer's Warehouse was housed in a Quonset hut (it is now a hospital parking structure)
Homer's Warehouse, 79 Homer Lane, Palo Alto, CA 94301
Homer's Warehouse was an actual warehouse that had been turn into a sort of burgers-n-beer biker joint. Initially, in 1971, it was run almost illicitly, with the aged owner having no clue that bikers were hanging out in his warehouse (nor why the entertainment would be provided by some mysterious "Doobie Brothers"). By late 1972, the place had been taken over by local impresario Andrew Bernstein, once a banjo student of Jerry Garcia's, and the club was run on an almost business-like basis. With no other rock clubs in the South Bay, Homer's Warehouse booked all the bands that played at clubs like the Keystone Berkeley.

Both the Garcia-Saunders group and Old And In The Way played a number of shows at Homer's Warehouse in 1973. Old And In The Way played one of their very first shows at there, on March 8, 1973. On July 24, 1973, they also played a show that was broadcast on KZSU-fm, the 10-watt Stanford radio station, which has since circulated widely. Although KZSU only had a range of about 10 miles, the broadcast still served to give at least one local teenager--me--his first taste of actual bluegrass music. Eventually reality and regulation caught up with Homer's Warehouse, and the fondly remembered club was shut down by 1974 (for the whole story, and more, see Bernstein's book California Slim: The Music, The Magic and The Madness).

Bob Weir, Dave Torbert and Kingfish, sharing the bill with Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders, and performing at El Camino Park in Palo Alto on June 8, 1975. The Grateful Dead had played a Be-In at the park on June 24, 1967 (photo (c) David Gans)
El Camino Park, 100 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA 94301
El Camino Park is Palo Alto's oldest park, first opened in 1914. It is between Alma Street and El Camino Real, on the Menlo Park/Palo Alto border. It is an easy walk from downtown, and just across the street from the Stanford Shopping Center. The park looks toward El Palo Alto, the tall tree that gives the city its name.

The Grateful Dead played a Be-In at El Camino Park, on June 24, 1967, soon after the Monterey Pop Festival. Also on the bill were The Anonymous Artists of America and the Sons Of Champlin. Some eyewitnesses recall different things, but that is par for the course for a Be-In (for some pictures of the event, see here).  Palo Alto was pretty relaxed, and had several more free concerts in El Camino Park in 1967 and 1968 (you can read about the last one, on September 29, 1968, here--check out the pictures), but the Dead did not perform. On June 8, 1975, Jerry Garcia/Merl Saunders and also Kingfish (with Bob Weir) performed at El Camino Park, albeit not for free, but there has not been a rock concert at the park since.

Due to underground construction related to the emergency water supply, El Camino Park will be closed until 2015.

Alta Mesa Cemetary, 695 Arastradero Road, Palo Alto, CA 94306
Pigpen's grave is at Alta Mesa Cemetary, just above Foothill Expressway. The location is Plot: Hillview Sec.Bb16 Lot 374.

David Nelson and Jerry Garcia performing with the New Riders of The Purple Sage at Peninsula School in Menlo Park, CA on April 28, 1970 (photo courtesy of and (c) Michael Parrish)
Menlo Park
Palo Alto residents and natives always make sure that as much of World History as possible revolves around Palo Alto. At various times, we have had to invent things like Google, Mapquest and the iPhone to insure that Palo Alto remains the gravitational center of the universe. However, it is typical Palo-centricity to give short shrift to any of the towns that surround it. The Grateful Dead are rightly pegged as a Palo Alto band, but much of their critical early history took place in Menlo Park, the town next door. Downtown Menlo Park is not far at all from Palo Alto, but Palo Altans like to re-write history so that all the historical locations in Menlo Park appear to have been in Palo Alto.

Veterans Administration Hospital, 795 Willow Road, Menlo Park, CA 94025
Menlo Park got its start as an actual town when the United States joined World War 1. Since pastoral Menlo Park was similar to rural France, a huge American training facility was created in Menlo Park. As a byproduct, a hospital was created nearby. Over time, though the military outpost left soon after the war, the hospital was turned over to the Veterans Administration. It was at the Menlo Park VA where some of the earliest experiments on LSD were done, and where Ken Kesey and Robert Hunter were part of those experiments. The Menlo Park VA was also where Kesey was an intern, inspiring One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest.

The building is still a medical facility. I'm not aware of any ongoing experiments.

Peninsula School925 Peninsula Way, Menlo Park, CA 94025
Peninsula School was a K-8 school founded in 1925 and by all indications is still going strong. It was always a place for forward looking, free-thinking people, and by the 1950s it was the private school of choice for the progressive, ban-the-bomb, anti-McCarthy type parents who were common in the South Bay and the Peninsula (if few other places). This isn't speculation on my part--my Mother was offered a teaching job at Peninsula School in the early 1950s, thus escaping Long Island and allowing her to marry my Father, leading directly to (among other things) this blog.

In the 1960s, while Peninsula parents were somewhat older than the Beatniks and proto-hippies who would make up the Grateful Dead, they weren't scared of them. Students who attended the school included John "Marmaduke" Dawson, writer Greil Marcus and me (albeit not at the same time). When the New Riders played Peninsula, Dawson alluded to the fact that Bob Weir had briefly attended the school as well (Weir apparently attended many schools briefly). Dawson would have completed 8th grade around 1961, and Weir's timing would have had to have been similar.

Given the tiny world of those of an open mind in the South Bay, its not surprising that there were many connections between the Grateful Dead and Peninsula school. Among the notable events:
  • Sometime in 1961, Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter do their first paid performance, billed as "Jerry And Bob." They are paid $5. 
  • In June 1969, members of the Grateful Dead try out a version of what will become the New Riders of The Purple Sage. Exactly who performed remains a mystery
  • In the Fall of 1969, the New Riders Of The Purple Sage do an afternoon gig at Peninsula, with Phil Lesh on bass (recalled by then-Peninsula student Steve Marcus). They played outside the main campus building.
  • On April 28, 1970, the New Riders played another afternoon show at Peninsula. There are tremendous photographs of this show, by Michael Parrish. 
  • On May 28, 1971, the New Riders were booked for yet another outdoor show, on the afternoon before a Grateful Dead Winterland show. However, Garcia was very sick that night. The Winterland show was rescheduled, and the New Riders played Peninsula as quartet, without Garcia, on the porch of the main building. 
The story goes that Jerry Garcia's daughter Heather was a student at Peninsula, and the concerts were for her tuition. By the next year, even assuming Heather was still in Peninsula, Garcia was no longer in the Riders, and in any case could finally afford it.  I have written about the various Grateful Dead/Peninsula connections at length elsewhere.

Kesey's house, 9 Perry Avenue [Lane], Menlo Park, CA 94025
Tom Wolfe immortalized Ken Kesey's house on Perry Lane in his book The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test. According to no less of an authority than the Archivist at the Palo Alto Historical Association, Kesey's "Perry Lane" house was on the site of today's current Perry Avenue, at Vine Street and near Sand Hill Avenue. The actual address was 9 Perry Avenue, but the Pranksters called it "Perry Lane" because it sounded better to them. At the time, the area was in unincorporated San Mateo County, with a mailing address of Menlo Park (although it may have since been incorporated into Menlo Park proper).  The houses that were associated with Kesey's activities have long since been torn down and replaced by newer structures, but the current Perry Avenue is the site of Perry Lane in Kesey mythology. For the complete story of what it was like to live next to Kesey, see the blog post here.

The backyard of "The Chataeu", 2100 Santa Cruz Avenue, sometime in the mid-70s
The Chateau, 2100 Santa Cruz Avenue, Menlo Park, CA 94025
In the early 60s, Jerry Garcia, David Nelson, Bob Hunter and many others lived in a rambling house near the Southern end of Santa Cruz Avenue called "The Chateau." The Chateau was located at the end of Santa Cruz Avenue (2100 Santa Cruz at Campo Bello Lane). It was a true hangout, with a dozen rooms and a party in all of them. Most stories about hanging out with Jerry in the old days generally refer to The Chateau. The Chateau was within easy walking distance of Kesey's pad, so the Chateua crowd regularly crashed their parties.

For various reasons, some people think that The Chateau was in Palo Alto, but it was definitely in Menlo Park. The Chateau house was purchased in 1964 and mostly used as a rental property. In 2002 it was sold again, torn down and an entirely new house was built on the site.

Kepler's Books, 935 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, CA 94025
Roy Kepler founded his famous bookstore at 935 El Camino Real in 1955, and it was the first bookstore  in the South Bay that allowed patrons to sit and read, drink coffee, hang out or play music, perfect for the budding bohemians who would become San Francisco's psychedelic rockers. All sorts of key events took place at Kepler's, such as David Nelson and Peter Albin (later in Big Brother) meeting Jerry Garcia for the first time, when Jerry was holding court in the back of Kepler's with a guitar. Jerry Garcia probably met his first wife (Sara Ruppenthal) here as well, though she was also from Palo Alto. Everybody in Palo Alto hung out at Kepler's, and did so well into the 70s.

Kepler's Books has since moved across the street (to 1010 El Camino Real). The site of the original store is currently a Leather Furniture Store.

Menlo Park, CA Girl Scout Troop 19 in 1970 or '71, no doubt commemorating the Warlocks' debut at Magoo's Pizza, at 641 Santa Cruz Avenue (I believe this was actually a Christmas Parade)
Magoos Pizza, 639 Santa Cruz Avenue, Menlo Park, CA 94025
In 1965, Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Pigpen and many others had a jug band, but the band had almost no gigs other than poorly paying ones at Palo Alto's only folk club, The Tangent. Pigpen urged Garcia to form an electric blues band, and the Warlocks were born. However, there were no gigs to be had in Palo Alto. Thus the first Warlocks gig was in Menlo Park, at a pizza parlor in Menlo Park. After a lot of research, I have determined that Magoo's Pizza was at 639 Santa Cruz (at Doyle). It is currently a furniture store called Harvest.

The Warlocks first played Magoo's on Wednesday May 5, 1965, and they played every Wednesday in May. The club was packed with students from Menlo Atherton High School, along with some boys from the nearby Menlo School, thanks to shrewd campaigning by the group's first fans. However, despite the promising start to the young band, bassist Dana Morgan was not cutting it. Garcia's friend Phil Lesh saw the last Wednesday night gig (on May 26), and Garcia invited him to replace Morgan. (Various residents of The Gilman Street House helped teach Phil Lesh to play electric bass).

Menlo School, 50 Valparaiso Avenue, Atherton, CA 94027
In the Fall of 1965, The Warlocks played a dance at the Menlo School. The Menlo School was an all-boy prep school (running from 9th grade to the first two years of college) that was designed as a feeder school for Stanford. I have recently learned that Bob Weir briefly attended Menlo School. Many of the kids who went to Magoo's would have been Menlo Students, and the Menlo dance was probably a "Mixer" held in the Student Union building. The Mixer was primarily a chance for Menlo boys to meet actual girls, so memories of the bands that played may be sparse. I wrote about what we do know about this show elsewhere.

The Menlo Hub Restaurant, at 1029 El Camino Real (near Santa Cruz Avenue) in Menlo Park, CA, is the probable site of The Underground, where Jerry Garcia first performed with John Dawson in 1969. Next door, at 1035 El Camino Real, was Guitars Unlimited (now the Su Hong restaurant).
Guitars Unlimited, 1035 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, CA 94025
Since Dana Morgan Jr had been fired from the Warlocks, the band was not welcome to use equipment from the store, nor were Garcia and Weir wanted as guitar instructors. Both Garcia and Weir got jobs at a music store called Guitars Unlimited on 1035 El Camino Real, right near Santa Cruz Avenue. Both of them brought their own guitar students with them, an attactive proposition even though Garcia in particular had what was perceived as a "menacing" demeanor. Of course, the band promptly borrowed equipment from Guitars Unlimited.

Throughout the balance of 1965, The Warlocks struggled with trying to make it like a normal South Bay band, mostly playing up and down the El Camino Real. Things started to change at the end of the year, however, as they began to play Kesey's Acid Tests. While the band played at the infamous Big Beat Acid Test in South Palo Alto, they still had not yet had a paying gig in Palo Alto. By 1966, things were developing at a rapid pace, and in February the newly-named Grateful Dead took off to Los Angeles with their patron Owsley Stanley, to help put on Acid Tests in Southern California. Of course, the band took all their equipment from Guitars Unlimited. Whether the band eventually paid for them is not clear. Still, it appears that Garcia had work on his equipment done at Guitars Unlimited as least as late as 1969. The site of Guitars Unlimited is currently the Su Hong restaurant.

The Underground, 1029 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, CA 94025
The story of Jerry Garcia and Menlo Park was not quite over, however. In April 1969, while on tour in Colorado, Garcia bought a pedal steel guitar. Looking for an opportunity to play the instrument, he discovered that old Los Altos pal John Dawson was performing his own songs at a Hofbrau in Menlo Park called The Underground, somewhere on El Camino Real in Menlo Park. Another old South Bay friend, David Nelson, without a band at the time, joined in playing electric guitar.

Dawson, Nelson and Garcia would go on to found the New Riders of The Purple Sage, although they would not be known by that name until August. The trio played most Wednesday nights at The Underground, however starting May 7 (probably May 14, May 21 and June 4 also, and possibly June 18). Their last gig at The Underground was probably June 25. It is a little-remarked fact that the first gigs of both the future Grateful Dead and the future New Riders took place within walking distance of each other in downtown Menlo Park.

Thanks to a Commenter, I know the approximate location of The Underground, but not precisely. It appears that 1029 El Camino Real would be the approximate location of The Underground. That is currently The Menlo Hub restaurant, but I do not know for a fact whether the buildings have been remodeled or if The Underground was at the same place.

An ad in the Stanford Daily for the Grateful Dead's performance at the Student Union on October 14, 1966. There were no concerts at the Student Union after this (the ad is from the Cryptical Developments blog)
Stanford University
Back in the 1960s, although somewhat respectable, Stanford did not have nearly the intellectual cachet that it does today. The sprawling, sleepy campus was largely empty. Many of the wealthier students had cars, and so went to San Francisco to enjoy themselves. Still, campus institutions provided entertainment and distraction for the local residents who lived nearby.

Stanford Coffee House, 459 Lagunita Dr, Stanford, CA 94305
In the early 60s, there were few coffee houses in the Peninsula or South Bay, but one of them was at Stanford. It being a coffee shop and all, folk musicians played there. There is a famous photo of Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter (on bass) earnestly playing at the Stanford Coffee House. I don't think musicians were really "booked" at the Coffee House, I think they just sort of got up and played, but this is a rare instance where we have photographic evidence that Dead members were there. The Coffee House has been part of numerous remodels over the years, and surely bears no resemblance to where Garcia and Hunter played in days gone by.

Tressider Memorial Union Deck, 459 Lagunita Dr, Stanford, CA 94305
The Tressider Memorial Union is the locus of the Stanford campus, and has always provided numerous student services as well as a cafeteria and coffee house. Around 1966, before Stanford University became very uneasy about rock music on campus, there were numerous rock concerts at Tressider. They were billed as "Tressider Memorial Deck" but whether this was at the front of the building or the rear is unclear. Some remarkable research posted in the Cryptical Developments blog (from whence I got the Stanford Daily ad above) included a fascinating anonymous Comment:
The TMU deck was a second story deck above the bowling alley that was originally in the lower space (now an exercise center and restaurants). Decades later they built a second story up there, at first a student computer center (pre-laptop days) and now offices and meeting rooms.
However, the Dead definitely played there on October 14, 1966. This seems to have been the last concert at Tressider--hmm, could things have gotten out of hand?

Roscoe Maples Pavilion, 655 Campus Dr, Stanford, CA 94305
Maples Pavilion was completed in 1969, replacing the tiny arena nearby (now known as Old Pavilion). Maples had a capacity of 7,392, and it is still the school's primary basketball facility. Stanford has always had a very uneasy history of allowing its venues to be used for rock concerts. As a result, Maples has only been used occasionally for concerts, Ray Charles having been first in 1969. Nonetheless, the few shows at Maples have generally been pretty memorable. The Dead's sole appearance at Maples, on February 9, 1973, was memorable indeed, since they broke out 7 new songs that night. The floor was so springy that Keith Godchaux had difficulty playing his grand piano as it bounced up and down.

Frost Amphitheater, Galvez St at Campus Dr, Stanford, CA 94305
Frost Amphitheater was built in 1937. The terraced, grassy bowl, capacity 6900, remains one of the nicest venues in the Bay Area, or frankly anywhere. Although it was really too large for 60s rock, it was still used a few times up until 1967, when Stanford seems to have put a moratorium on rock concerts. In 1970, Stanford lifted the ban, and there were a series of rock concerts that escalated into some very ill-handled events in 1971, causing Stanford to ban rock groups again from Frost.

With some Stanford-only logic, jazz groups were ok at Frost, so Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders played Frost in 1971 (and the New Riders opened for Miles Davis in '72). Various promoters occasionally used Frost, and Bob Weir and Kingfish opened for Eric Clapton in 1975. After some fits and starts, Bill Graham managed to get access to Frost again in the 1980s, and that began a very memorable run of summer concerts at Frost from 1982 to 1989. However, by the end of the decade the Dead were simply too large for Frost, and Stanford itself  did not need the concert revenue. To my knowledge, Frost is only used for campus events now.

Robert Hunter fronting Roadhog (Jim McPherson in the background) in Spring 1976, at a "Nooner" part at the Beta Pi Fraternity at Stanford University (photo courtesy of and (c) Bill Kn)
Beta Pi Fraternity, Stanford Campus, exact location unknown
The Beta Pi Fraternity established a tradition of afternoon parties known as "Nooners." Since the Beta Pi Fraternity is no longer active on the Stanford Campus, I can' say exactly where the house was. Robert Hunter seems to have played a Nooner twice, first with Roadhog in Spring 1976 and then with Comfort in Spring 1978. The person who sent me the picture from the 1976 event told me that when they requested permission to book Robert Hunter's band, they were told that the Grateful Dead were banned from the Stanford campus. That 1966 Tressider show is sounding more and more interesting.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia South Bay Landmark Guide (So Many Roads I)

On Halloween, 1969, The Grateful Dead and The New Riders Of The Purple Sage played the newly-opened Loma Prieta Room at the Student Union at San Jose State University. In 2014, San Jose State University is co-hosting the So Many Roads Conference on the Grateful Dead with the University of California at Santa Cruz.
So Many Roads
San Jose and South Bay Landmark Guide
The So Many Roads Grateful Dead Conference on November 5-8, 2014 will be a celebration of the history and legacy of the Grateful Dead. The Conference is jointly hosted by San Jose State University and the University of California at Santa Cruz. Although the two universities are separated by the Santa Cruz Mountains, they are less than 25 miles apart. While the Grateful Dead are rightly recognized worldwide as a San Francisco band, the counties south of San Francisco played a huge part in Dead history as well.

Grateful Dead fans who visit the Bay Area don't always realize how near they often are to various sites where the Grateful Dead or its members performed, or at least plotted world domination. In honor of the So Many Roads conference, I am going to rectify this by writing posts that identify important sites in Grateful Dead history in geographic areas, starting with San Jose and the South Bay.

The "South Bay" Versus "The Peninsula"
The county just south of San Francisco is San Mateo County, running along San Francisco Bay from South San Francisco to Menlo Park. Just South of the Menlo Park line, Santa Clara County runs from Palo Alto to San Jose to Gilroy and beyond. Back in the 60s and 70s, and perhaps still, residents of most of the towns in San Mateo County along the Bay refer to their region as "The Peninsula." San Jose and some of its nearby suburban towns, like Santa Clara and Cupertino, were referred to as "The South Bay." Palo Alto residents, however, despite being part of Santa Clara County, generally thought of themselves as part of "The Peninsula." Palo Alto does have an outlet on San Francisco Bay, but the primary reason that Palo Alto assigned itself to the Peninsula and not the South Bay was snobbery towards San Jose.

San Jose had a long and prosperous history by 1965. However, its initial growth was primarily as an agricultural center, providing transport and markets for the many orchards and farms that surrounded it. Although the San Jose area had an increasing industrial base after World War 2, to the South Bay the city would always be the country cousin of sophisticated San Francisco. Thus a town like Palo Alto, invented in the shadow of Stanford University, looked North towards San Francisco and dismissed San Jose. As a result, Palo Altans insisted they were part of The Peninsula rather than the South Bay. Perhaps because of that, the South Bay had a pleasant and unpretentious air that remained intact until Silicon Valley moved in and changed the tenor and finances of the entire Santa Clara Valley.

The San Jose State University campus is a pretty old campus in the middle of a thriving downtown city
San Jose State University
What is now San Jose State University was founded in San Francisco in 1857, making it the first college in California. The school moved to San Jose in 1871. It was called the California State Normal School until 1935, when it adopted the name San Jose State College. In 1972 the school became San Jose State University. The school remains rooted at the same site it moved to in 1871, at Fourth and San Carlos Streets, right near downtown San Jose. San Jose State has always been central to professional and cultural life in the South Bay, and it remains so today. Downtown San Jose played a critical role in the early history of the Grateful Dead, so it is an appropriate place to start a survey of landmarks.

South Bay Landmarks In Grateful Dead History
All of the links direct to a Google map of the site, but readers should be warned that in many cases no trace may remain of the original edifice. A landmark map of Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Stanford will follow this one. I have already completed a post for Santa Cruz County. The sites are arranged more or less geographically, but I would be surprised if anyone could or should try to cover all of them in a day.

Do you think the 1969 Grateful Dead would have sounded good here? The Loma Prieta Ballroom in the San Jose State University Student Union.
Loma Prieta Room, Student Union, San Jose State University, 211 S 9th St San Jose, CA 95112
For anyone visiting a Grateful Dead scholarship conference held at the Student Union of San Jose State University, a good place to start visiting historical sites would be the Loma Prieta Room in the Student Union itself. On Halloween, 1969, the Grateful Dead played the Loma Prieta Room (see the poster up top). In its current configuration, the Loma Prieta Room has a capacity of 588. In a slightly larger configuration (known currently as the Ron Barrett Ballroom), it has a capacity of 728. In the early days, the names "Student Union Ballroom" and "Loma Prieta Room" seem to have been used interchangeably. Regardless: seeing the 1969 Grateful Dead in a 500-700 capacity room on Halloween would pretty well have melted your brain.

This hard-to-read clip from Ralph Gleason's SF Chronicle column of October 17, 1969 lists Jerry Garcia and the New Riders of the Purple Sage at the San Jose State Student Union ballroom that night (as well as the intriguing Venus Flytrap and Albino Blood double bill at the College Of San Mateo)
That isn't all. The Student Union Ballroom had only opened on October 13, 1969. On the very first Friday that the ballroom was open October 17, 1969, the new, unknown New Riders Of The Purple Sage played there and broke in the room. Whether the Student Union Ballroom was the larger (Ron Barrett) or smaller (Loma Prieta) is moot, at this point. The raw New Riders, with the cutting-edge fusion band Fourth Way on the bill as well, would have been memorable indeed.

As of this writing, the Loma Prieta Room is being remodeled, so the new configuration may have no relation to what came before.

Acid Test House, 43 S. Fifth Street, San Jose, CA 95112
The Grateful Dead's first known performance as The Grateful Dead was at an Acid Test at a house on 5th Street in San Jose, on December 4, 1965. The house was a short walk from the San Jose Civic Auditorium, where the Rolling Stones were playing, and flyers were passed out after the show. Supposedly Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts dropped by (per Wyman's diary update: apparently wishful thinking. Wyman went to a party, but not likely this one).

The house was on S. Fifth Street, near San Fernando Street. It is now the site of City Hall. The San Jose 60s hippie rock band Throckmorton lived in the house for a time.However, the actual house itself was moved, and can be seen here on Google Street View.  The current address is 635 E St. James St., San Jose, 95112. 

The San Jose Civic Auditorium, at 135 W. San Carlos Street, as it appeared in 2011. The Rolling Stones played there on Dec 4, 1965, and afterwards an Acid Test was held within walking distance. Jerry Garcia and then the Grateful Dead played the Civic in the Summer of '72.
San Jose Civic Auditorium, 135 W. San Carlos, San Jose, CA 95113
The San Jose Civic Auditorium, built in 1934, was the largest auditorium in the South Bay for many years, with a capacity of 3000. Besides the historic Rolling Stones concert (and Bob Dylan and The Hawks a few days later), the Dead themselves played the San Jose Civic on August 20, 1972. Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders checked out the venue by playing a concert there on July 1, 1972.

The Offstage, 970 S. First St, San Jose, CA 95110
In the early 60s, there were little enclaves of rebellious long haired folk singers in every college town and big city, and they all had a little coffee shop hangout. All of the hangouts in all of the towns made up the "folk circuit." In San Jose, the folkies congregated at a place called The Offstage, at 970 South First Street. The club was run and sponsored by an engineer named Paul Foster. Jorma Kaukonen was one of the regulars at The Offstage, along with Peter Grant, Paul Kantner, David Freiberg and other fellow travelers. Jerry Garcia was booked there on occasion, too, but Foster thought he was snide to the audience. The Offstage folded when Foster went off to hook up with Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters. Today the site is Vinh Hing Bakery.

Spartan Stadium, near the San Jose State University campus. Besides being the home of the San Jose State Spartan football team, the field has a long history with American professional soccer. For many years it was the home of the San Jose Earthquakes (Georgie Best even played at Spartan for the Earthquakes in 1981).
Spartan Stadium, 1251 S 10th St, San Jose, CA 95112
San Jose State has a pretty good sports tradition for a non-D1 school. Although the football team (The Spartans) are FCS (formerly Division 1AA), they have historically been relatively good, and they have had several players drafted into the NFL. The most famous Spartan football player was SJSU alumnus and TE/DE Bill Walsh, who played for the team in the 60s. The team plays at Spartan Stadium, which is not right on campus. It is a few blocks away in a big park, bounded by E. 10th and Alma Streets. The Grateful Dead only played the 30,000 seat Spartan Stadium one time, when Brent Mydland debuted with the band on April 22, 1979.

The Grateful Dead played on the first day (Saturday, May 18, 1968) of the first Northern California Folk Rock Festival at the Santa Clara County Fairgounds, at 344 Tully Road.
Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, 344 Tully Road, San Jose, CA 95111
The Santa Clara County Fairgrounds had a hugely important role in San Jose rock history, which I have discussed elsewhere. However, the Grateful Dead only played there once, on the first day of the 1968 Northern California Folk Rock Festival.


A flyer for The Grateful Dead's first performance at the Continental Ballroom, at 1600 Martin Avenue in Santa Clara, on December 21, 1966. Since December 21 was a Wednesday, the Dead seem to have played without a support act.
Continental Ballroom, 1600 Martin Ave, Santa Clara, CA 95050
The Continental Ballroom, under various names, was the principal rock venue for San Jose and the South Bay in the 60s. Apparently, it was a former rollerskating rink, but I don't know it's exact history. Because the Continental was generally not under the control of a single promoter, it doesn't have the storied history of places like the Fillmore. Don't doubt, however--many a great band played there back in the day, and memorable times were had. The Continental is actually in the town of Santa Clara, which though a separate municipality from San Jose, is an economic part of San Jose.

The Dead first played the Continental on December 21, 1966, and then 4 times in 1967. Among other things, in the summer of '67, Quicksilver Messenger Service manager Ron Polte hired the hall for 8 weekends, and booked every San Francisco band, including the Dead on July 21 and 22, 1967. Not only did all the great San Francisco bands play the Continental,  the Continental was also the primary home for great 60s San Jose bands like The Chocolate Watch Band, so it played an important part in South Bay rock history. Yet since no single promoter embellished the legend, the Continental is just a fond, fuzzy memory for fans and musicians of the era (80s peeps take note: The club One Step Beyond was in the same complex, but at 1400 Martin Avenue).

A contemporary photo of the pool at the Chateau Liberte, and its infamous tiled portrait of The Zig Zag Man.
Chateau Liberte, 22700 Old Santa Cruz Highway, Los Gatos, CA 95033
The Chateau Liberte was a former resort hotel that was turned into a hip entertainment enclave in the early 70s. Calling the Chateau Liberte "notorious" doesn't tell the half of it. Although the Liberte is in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and on the Old Santa Cruz Highway, it is actually in Santa Clara County, so it belongs on this list. In the early 70s, the Santa Cruz Mountains had plenty of cheap, inaccessible housing, so they were full of bikers, pot growers, entrepreneurs and layabouts. Many Mountain residents fit more than one of these categories, and all of them hung out at Chateau Liberte on weekends.

"The Chateau" had originally been a Wells Fargo stagecoach stop. From 1920 to 1945, it was a resort called Chateau Boussy, a French restaurant and resort, noted as a hideaway for important political figures to stash their mistresses. When it got taken over by hippies in the early 70s, it became infamous for its swimming pool, which had a tiled "Zig Zag Man." The Chateau had a deserved reputation for being a hangout for the Hell's Angels, but many people who went there claim that it was mostly a mellow scene.

In 1970, when The Chateau first got rolling, one of the regular bands was Mountain Current, led by Matthew Kelly and John Tomasi (John Tomasi was the former lead singer of The New Delhi River Band). Mountain Current often shared the stage with either The Doobie Brothers or Hot Tuna, who tended to alternate weekends. The cover of the first Doobie Brothers album was taken at the Chateau Liberte bar, and the second Hot Tuna album (First Pull Up, Then Pull Down) was recorded there in 1971 (for more on the story, see the great Metroactive article here).

An ad from the Santa Cruz Times for Kingfish and Jerry Garcia shows at the Chateau Liberte in 1974, This was the first known time that Bob Weir was publicly advertised with Kingfish. Note that there is no area code on the phone number, as 408 was simply presumed.
In late 1974 and early 1975, Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir each played a few shows at The Chateau. In Garcia's case, I think he was just filling in the date book for an empty weekend, as the venue was tiny even by his standards. Kingfish, on the other hand, seemed to have used the gigs to give Bob Weir a chance to get his sea legs with the band. According to various accounts, the sound man at The Chateau was quite willing to let tapers plug in, so even though the gigs were obscure, tapes from the venue circulated relatively widely.

One other unique piece of Grateful Dead history took place at the Chateau Liberte: a very rare showing of the Sunshine Daydream movie, way back in 1974. I know it was shown once at Stanford University around that time as well, as I recall not going because "how could it be any good if I hadn't heard of it?" Today, the Chateau Liberte is owned by a real estate agent, and the house is a private residence. It is hard to get to, and can't be seen from the road anyway. But the pool is still intact, apparently, so rock and roll history does live on.


The Naval Airship USS Macon above Moffett NAS in Sunnyvale, CA ca. 1934. If you look closely enough, and really want to see them, Shoreline Amphitheatre, Google Headquarters, Apple Headquarters and Highway 101 are all visible. Non-residents probably just see empty fields.
Shoreline Amphitheater, 1 Amphitheatre Pkwy, Mountain View, CA 94043
Although hardly the stuff of legends, the Grateful Dead played the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View 39 times. The first Dead show at the venue was October 2, 1987. Bill Graham Presents built the venue in order to not only have their own large concert venue, but to have one in Silicon Valley, where all the money was. The venue opened on July 29, 1986 (with Julio Iglesias and Roseanne Barr), with a maximum capacity of 22,500, and it has thrived ever since that day.

Shoreline is to the East of Highway 101 (nearer the Bay) between San Jose and Palo Alto. Heading north from San Jose, the unmistakeable Airship Hangar One of Moffett Field, the largest unsupported structure in the world, marks the spot. The hangar, the former home of the USS Macon, now houses the private planes for Google, Inc. The Google campus takes up the entire area leading towards Shoreline Amphitheatre.

A subsequent post will locate the Grateful Dead historical landmarks of Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Stanford University. For the landmarks of Santa Cruz, see my post on the history of Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead in Santa Cruz County.