Friday, September 8, 2017

Jerry Garcia and The Banjo 1969-72 (Counterpoint)

A 1971 Gibson Mastertone RB 250 banjo, possibly similar to the banjo that Jerry Garcia played in Old And In The Way
It is a convention that the banjo was the first instrument Jerry Garcia focused on, because he wanted to play bluegrass in the style of Earl Scruggs and Bill Keith. The narrative says that he put it aside in 1965 when he began to play electric guitar with the Warlocks. The conventional version goes on to say that the banjo only reappeared in Garcia's musical career in 1973, when he started playing bluegrass again with Old And In The Way. Yet a closer look tells us that is not quite a true story. Definitely, Garcia dropped the banjo in 1965, and took up the electric guitar. In 1969, however, the banjo started to make an appearance in Garcia's musical career. It wasn't constant, but it showed up too many times to say that it was a casual coincidence. So it seems that when Garcia began to play with Old And In The Way, he was reinvigorating his love of the banjo, but it wasn't a cold start. The banjo arose when Garcia took up the pedal steel guitar, and when the banjo started to play a meaningful part in Garcia's musical life, the pedal steel disappeared. This post will look at Garcia's known banjo performances between 1965 and 1973, and try to see how they illuminate Garcia's musical career.

Once the Warlocks formed, Garcia switched from banjo and acoustic guitar to electric guitar, like this 1967 Guild
1965: Banjo Withdrawal
By Garcia's own admission, the five-string banjo was the first instrument that really consumed him, around 1962, when he practiced for hours every day. Now, even during the height of his banjo period, we know that Garcia practiced his acoustic guitar constantly as well, and even fooled around with mandolin, fiddle and possibly other instruments. Yet playing bluegrass banjo in the style of Earl Scruggs and Bill Keith was what drove Garcia. Garcia attempted to be a professional bluegrass banjo player in the Palo Alto and Berkeley areas in 1963 and '64, even though he played guitar when opportunities came his way. The musical world was very different in 1964, but not for banjo players: it has always been pretty much impossible to make a living as a bluegrass banjo player in the Bay Area.

By 1965, Jerry Garcia and his friends had formed a jug band, because there were so few paying gigs for any bluegrass bands. In the jug band, Garcia sang and played guitar, but he didn't play banjo (per Dave Parker [h/t Brian], Tom Stone covered the banjo parts). When the jug band ground to a halt, the best musicians in it formed an electric blues band, and The Warlocks seemed a lot more professionally viable option, so Garcia focused on the electric guitar. He mostly kept that focus until 1995.

1966-68: The Haight Ashbury Period
In the early days of the Grateful Dead, in late 1965, Garcia lived in a Waverley Street house with fellow banjo player Rick Shubb. According to Shubb, they did play banjo together once in a while, so we know Garcia kept one around, but other than that the instrument seems to have disappeared in Garcia's musical life. When the Grateful Dead lived at 710 Ashbury, a lot of informal picking took place, and Garcia must have played banjo when the mood struck to play a different instrument. We do know that Garcia had a Fender pedal steel guitar in 1966-67, and there are even pictures (though no tapes) of him playing it. The Long Strange Trip movie has an intriguing video sequence (without sound) of Garcia playing dobro with Weir and others in some kind of acoustic jam at 710. So while the banjo must have been broken out occasionally, there's no actual evidence of it.

The only really confirmed sighting of Garcia on banjo from 1966 to 1968 was on a studio recording, from RCA Studios in Hollywood in November 1967. Hilariously, the banjo appears in the least likely place--"Dark Star." The original single (45 rpm) studio recording of "Dark Star" (released in April 1968, and recently re-issued) includes a brief snippet of Garcia's banjo, providing background for the voice of Robert Hunter, who made his only appearance on a Grateful Dead recording. Still, this is just a typical 60s gimmick. During the Anthem Of The Sun session, for example, Phil Lesh played some trumpet, which he hadn't played since junior college. There was no sign that Garcia's banjo playing on the record was any more than a novelty.
update: a Comment by fellow scholar LIA reveals that Garcia's banjo part on "Dark Star" was from an old tape, ca. 1964, so it wasn't even a current performance

Butch Waller and High Country released an album on The Youngbloods' Raccoon label in 1971. Waller had been playing bluegrass in the Bay Area since 1962, with friends like Herb Pedersen, David Nelson, Richard Greene and Jerry Garcia
February 19, 1969 The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: High Country
Given that Garcia had dropped the banjo, his unexpected appearance with High Country at The Matrix on February 19, 1969 was a meaningful shift. I have written at length about some of the ambiguity of the dating of this show, so for the moment I just want to focus on the surprise of Garcia playing banjo at all. High Country was a bluegrass band led by singer and mandolinist Butch Waller, an old pal from the Palo Alto bluegrass days. Also onboard with High Country at that time was David Nelson, as Nelson had been in the Pine Valley Boys with Waller in 1964. During this period, High Country alternated the banjo chair between Rick Shubb and Pete Grant, who had been the top South Bay banjo pickers back in the early 60s. Apparently, for the Matrix gig, neither were available, so another South Bay banjo picker was engaged.

It's one thing to pluck a few runs for a psychedelic space-out collage, but its another to actually play bluegrass banjo with real players. Now, sure, Garcia hadn't "forgotten" how to play banjo. But he has commented that if you stop playing the banjo, you lose your timing. Bluegrass banjo, as I understand it (I am not a musician), depends on a steady rhythmic touch for the perpetual three-finger runs that never stop, and it is the timing and feel that are the hallmark of a top bluegrass banjo player, rather than just blinding speed. Certainly, it's true that his fellow bandmates were old friends who were surely happy to play with a guy who knew all the old bluegrass standards and wasn't going to panic on stage, and they weren't going to criticize his staleness on the instrument. But Garcia was Garcia--he wasn't going to agree to a banjo gig without being ready to bring it. He must have practiced for days before the show.

I'm not aware of any other Garcia banjo gigs in February 1969 (if you know of any, please Comment!). The resonance of the Matrix bluegrass show seems to have betrayed a certain musical restlessness in Garcia. He had been playing electric guitar essentially nonstop from Spring '65 until Winter '69, and he may have wanted to add a side order to his entree. That would come soon enough.

The debut album of the Flying Burrito Brothers, The Gilded Palace Of Sin, was released on A&M Records in February 1969. In April, the Burritos opened for the Dead at the Avalon, and having heard pedal steel guitarist Sneaky Pete Kleinow with the band, Jerry Garcia was apparently inspired to buy a pedal steel guitar the next weekend.
April 14, 1969: unknown Colorado music store
On April 14, 1969--or possibly the day before--Jerry Garcia purchased a pedal steel guitar, from a music store in either Boulder or Denver. Garcia had owned a Fender pedal steel guitar in 1966-67, but it had been difficult to keep in tune. He had traded it to the Youngbloods (another story), but Garcia definitely had pedal steel on his mind. As I have detailed at great length, on a three-night stand the weekend before (April 4-6), at the Avalon Ballroom with The Flying Burrito Brothers, Garcia heard Sneaky Pete Kleinow on an Owsley sound system. According to a reliable eyewitness (Burritos road manager Jimmi Seiter), Garcia was so impressed he played a (presumably rented) pedal steel guitar behind the stage as the Burritos performed. It seems no surprise, then, that Garcia purchased a pedal steel at the next available opportunity. Apparently, he requested that the ZB Custom D10 be sent to San Francisco already tuned.

My hypothesis is that Garcia's willingness to practice banjo to play well enough for a bluegrass gig was a precursor to his willingness to really learn the pedal steel guitar. I do not know which begat the other. Certainly, Garcia had always wanted to play pedal steel guitar since hearing Tom Brumley's solo on Buck Owens' "Together Again" (apparently played on a ZB, probably not a coincidence). Did picking on the banjo make Garcia want the steel, or was the picking an attempt to scratch an already-existing itch?

I am not a musician, but I do know that the three-finger banjo roll invented by Earl Scruggs and refined by Bill Keith has some crossover to modern pedal steel guitar. There is a reason that many banjo players, like Bill Keith himself, shifted to the pedal steel guitar, and while many well-known steel players, like Al Perkins, regularly play banjo when the set requires it. So I think Garcia's constant practice on the pedal steel from 1969-71, remarked on by many observers, made him more comfortable picking up the banjo for occasional sessions (any musicians with helpful insights please weigh in on the Comments).

Jerry Garcia's banjo playing on "Cumberland Blues" was mixed out of the initial release of Workingman's Dead.
"Cumberland Blues" from The Workingman's Dead, Grateful Dead (Warner Brothers Records released June 1970, recorded March 1970)
In June 1970, the Grateful Dead shocked the rock universe by switching from psychedelic grooving to country music. Today, we can notice the continuity, but that was invisible in 1970 save for a few old Palo Alto and Berkeley folkies. If Garcia had played banjo on Workingman's Dead. the continuum from bluegrass to Buck Owens-style country rock would have been far clearer. In fact, Garcia did play banjo on the album, but it was mixed out. [update: informed correspondents tell me that the banjo was audible on the original release. Probably my high-school stereo was too crappy, or I was too naive to realize that it was a banjo rather than a twangy guitar] Modern-day releases of Workingman's Dead include the full tracking of "Cumberland Blues," where Garcia's banjo intertwines with David Nelson's flatpicked acoustic guitar, drawing a straight line from bluegrass to honky-tonk Bakersfield country. Since only Nelson's guitar made the original mix, Garcia's banjo remained muted for decades.

"Hoedown" from Marrying Maiden, It's A Beautiful Day (Columbia Records released June 1970)
One of the few pictures from 1967 where Garcia is picking his pedal steel shows David LaFlamme playing the fiddle. LaFlamme, another Haight Ashbury resident, has reported that he regularly dropped by 710 Ashbury to play and hang out. By 1970, LaFlamme's group had released a hugely successful debut album (everybody recalls "White Bird"), so Columbia would have been hot for their second album. Amidst the Dead's intense touring schedule in early 1970, Garcia somehow found time to play on album sessions at Pacific High Recorders for It's A Beautiful Day's second album, Marrying Maiden. The album was released on Columbia in June 1970, and probably sessions were completed a few months earlier. Garcia played banjo on the song "Hoedown" (and pedal steel guitar on "It Comes Right Down To You").

"Glendale Train" and "Turkey In The Straw" July 7, 1970 The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: New Riders Of The Purple Sage
JGMF unearthed a unique New Riders show from the Matrix, on July 7. 1970. For some reason, Jerry Garcia did not play pedal steel guitar with the Riders that night. The Grateful Dead had just finished the 'Festival Express" tour (last date July 3), and had following dates in Illinois (July 8) and Fillmore East (July 9-12). I have to assume the band's equipment went East, while the actual band members flew home. It is a remarkable testament that Garcia played a gig with the New Riders at the Matrix the night before an Eastern tour.

Besides the fascination of hearing Garcia play New Riders songs on the six-string, a remarkable footnote comes when Garcia plays banjo for two numbers. One of those songs was "Glendale Train," on which he would play banjo on the record ( about which more below), but Garcia also played banjo on a sort of bluegrass instrumental with David Nelson on acoustic guitar. Although this was a casual performance for--at most--150 people, I don't think Garcia would have played a bluegrass tune with Nelson unless he had some confidence in his playing at the time. The other takeaway was that Garcia made the decision to bring a banjo to the show, because it had to be a conscious choice. Did Garcia play banjo at other New Riders Matrix shows? We don't really know.

The first inkling of Jefferson Starship was on the Blows Against The Empire album on RCA/Grunt, credited to Paul Kantner/Jefferson Starship. The album was recorded in the Summer of 1970 and released in November.
 "Let's Go Together"from Blows Against The Empire-Paul Kantner/Jefferson Starship (RCA/Grunt released November 1970, recorded Wally Heider Studios July 22, 1970
Throughout the 1969-72 period, as a result of the Jefferson Airplane's contract with RCA, the Airplane members had an unlimited recording budget at Wally Heider Studios in San Francisco. These are now known colloquially as the "PERRO" (Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra") Sessions, and formed the core of many well-known albums coming out of San Francisco in the early 70s. Jerry Garcia was a regular participant in the PERRO sessions.

On July 22, 1970, Garcia played banjo on a song called "Let's Go Together," which later appeared on a December, 1970 release called Blows Against The Empire, credited to Paul Kantner and "Jefferson Starship." For this track, Garcia was using the banjo as a sort of rhythm instrument for a rock track. Garcia's versatility was used to good effect, because while his banjo part was basic, Garcia took advantage of his experience in providing a foundation for rock tracks, even on a different instrument than his usual electric guitar.

"Flying" from Cross Between, Lamb (Warner Brothers released 1971, recorded Wally Heider Studios October 5, 1970)
Lamb, originally a songwriting duo of Barbara Mauritz (piano) and Bob Swanson (guitar) were signed to Bill Graham's Fillmore Records and subsequently turned into a real rock group. Their second album, Cross Between, was released on Warner Brothers in mid-71. Thanks to JGMF, we know that Garcia's contribution was recorded at Wally Heider Studios on October 5, 1970. Garcia played banjo on "Flying," and pedal steel on two other songs. This seemed to fit a pattern, where Garcia would contribute both pedal steel guitar and banjo to an album. In the then-tiny universe of San Francisco recording studios, this set Garcia apart. Hiring Garcia for a session meant that you had hired a triple threat on multiple instruments.

On a side note, its remarkable to consider that Jerry Garcia played Grateful Dead shows at Winterland on October 4 and 5, 1970, and found out that Janis Joplin died on the night of the 4th, and yet played a session at Wally Heider's in between. He played sessions the next day, too (Oct 6, for a Papa John Creach album). Whatever your interpretation of Garcia's personal motivations, he was all music, all the time.

The debut album of The New Riders Of The Purple Sage had been a project for almost a year when it was finally released in September 1971. Garcia played banjo on "Glendale Train," along with the pedal steel parts.
"Glendale Train" from New Riders Of The Purple Sage (Columbia released September 1971, recorded Winter 71, Wally Heider Studios)
The New Riders of The Purple Sage were formed in the Summer of 1969, and signed to Columbia Records sometime in the middle of 1970. Recording began at Wally Heider's soon after, with Steve Barncard on the board and Phil Lesh helping to arrange the songs. Initially, Lesh was supposed to be the producer, but ultimately Barncard took over (Lesh is credited as "executive producer" on the album). There were numerous sessions in 1970, but according to Barncard, they were all erased. At that time, Micky Hart was the band's drummer. By the time the debut album actually got recorded, the New Riders had introduced Spencer Dryden as the drummer.

The NRPS debut album released on Columbia in August, 1971 included a prominent Garcia banjo part on "Glendale Train." It's also possible a few banjo licks snuck into the album on other tracks. Garcia's driving banjo part on the song has contributed to making "Glendale Train" a sort of bluegrass standard, even though it was initially recorded as a rock song. When you're in a pizza joint with craft beers, and the trio in the corner is playing "Panama Red" and "Friend Of The Devil," you know that "Glendale Train" isn't far behind. Garcia was an old bluegrasser, so to the extent he was aware of it, it had to please Garcia that his banjo part had converted a rock song to a bluegrass staple.

One curiosity to consider is the thoroughly lost New Riders studio tracks from late 1970. Did Garcia try out any additional banjo parts on some Riders's songs? We will probably never know, but it's interesting to contemplate.

A "KG" review of Garcia's appearance on banjo with James And The Good Brothers at Fillmore West on February 25-28, 1971 (from the Hayward Daily Review of March 4, 1971)
February 25-28, 1971 Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA: New Riders Of The Purple Sage/Boz Scaggs/James and The Good Brothers
The New Riders played a four-night stand at Fillmore West along with Boz Scaggs in February, 1971. The opening act was James And The Good Brothers. Canadians Bruce and Brian Good, and their partner James Ackroyd, had played on the infamous "Festival Express" Canadian tour, and had been invited to San Francisco. The trio recorded at Alembic, with Betty Cantor behind the desk. Various San Francisco luminaries, including Jack Casady and Bill Kreutzmann, played on the album. Jerry Garcia is thanked on the record, but doesn't appear to have played on the released tracks.

The album was finished in Toronto, where a third Good brother, Larry Good, played banjo. The album was a sort of folk-rock, acoustic album, rather than a bluegrass-type album of "hot pickin'." My theory is that Garcia played banjo on some tracks during the San Francisco sessions, but the tracks were re-recorded in Toronto, with Larry Good playing the banjo parts.

The critics for for the Hayward Daily Review, Kathi Staska and George Mangrum, reported that for the James And The Good Brothers set at Fillmore West in February 1971, Jerry Garcia played banjo and Jack Casady played acoustic "Balalaika" bass. While the two of them only reviewed a single show, I assume the pair played each show. This review is why I think Garcia played on early versions of the album tracks, although I can't confirm that one way or the other.

Powerglide, the second Columbia album by the New Riders, was released in April 1972. Garcia played on three tracks.
"Sweet Lovin' One" and "Lochinvar", from Powerglide-New Riders Of The Purple Sage (Columbia released April '72, recorded Jan 17 '72 at Wally Heider Studios
During the Summer 1970 tour in Canada, Garcia and the Riders had discovered Buddy Cage playing pedal steel guitar with Ian And Sylvia, and Garcia had even jammed with him (as you can see on film). Their meeting led to an invitation for Cage to come to San Francisco to replace Garcia in the New Riders. Cage appeared in San Francisco around September 1971, and began rehearsing. Garcia loyally kept the chair for the initial legs of the New Riders tour in October, 1971, for the attendant publicity. However, Garcia's last show with the New Riders was October 31, 1971, as Cage took over the steel at the next show (Atlanta Nov 11 '71). With no need to keep up his chops, Garcia's session dates with pedal steel guitar dropped dramatically.

Nonetheless, the Dead and the Riders still had ties. Garcia spent a day at Wally Heider's with Steve Barncard on the desk, helping out on the New Riders second album. On January 17, 1972, Garcia played banjo on two songs, "Sweet Lovin' One" and "Duncan And Brady." Once again, these banjo parts weren't difficult, but they provided a good rhythmic drive to the tunes and gave them a countrified feel (Garcia also played piano on "Lochinvar" at this session, and all were released on Powerglide). With three tracks on the same day, I have to think that Garcia was not so much part of the arrangements, but rather had heard the work tapes and thought he had something to add.

"Walkin'" from Baron Von Tollbooth vs The Chrome Nun-Paul Kantner, Grace Slick and David Freiberg (RCA/Grunt released May '73, recorded Nov or Dec '72, Wally Heider Studios)
The Airplane crew were still recording regularly at Wally Heider's, even though it was financially ill-advised. One of the final products of the PERRO sessions was the Baron Von Tollbooth vs The Chrome Num album (released May '73), credited to the trio of Paul Kantner, Grace Slick and David Freiberg. Garcia played a substantial part, and sometime in November or December of 1972, with Betty at the controls, Garcia played a rhythmic banjo part on the song "Walkin'."

Garcia had played pedal steel guitar once or twice on the Europe '72 tour, and he picked some steel at a casual Thanksgiving party in Austin, TX, with Doug Sahm and Leon Russell. However, after that show (November 23, 1972), Garcia gave up the pedal steel, save for a few notes on Wake Of The Flood, and a brief encore for the 1987 Bob Dylan tour. I have looked into the timeline of Old And In The Way in some detail, and it appears that Garcia started casually picking banjo with David Grisman and Peter Rowan in December 1972. I don't think Garcia had a plan, but it doesn't seem entirely like a coincidence that Garcia permanently dropped the pedal steel and took up the banjo more seriously in the very same month.

Garcia's definitive banjo statement was the Old And In The Way album, recorded in October 1973, but not released on Round Records until 17 months later. For many years, the record was reputedly the best selling bluegrass album of all time (no doubt long since eclipsed by the likes of Alison Krauss). 
1973-75: The Jerry Garcia Banjo Renaissance
Around December 1972, Garcia discovered that some neighbors just down the hill from him in Stinson Beach were bluegrass musicians. Garcia got his banjo out, and when the opportunity arose, Garcia, Peter Rowan and David Grisman played bluegrass together. With the addition of regular bassman John Kahn, it wasn't long before they had a band. Garcia must have practiced pretty hard, because by March 2, 1973, he was not only ready to go out into the world as a bluegrass banjo player, but even onto the radio. Pedal steel guitar was off the table, and the banjo was back.

The story of Garcia and Old And In The Way is well-known, so it won't be retold here. Old And In The Way played until November 4, 1973 (delayed from an earlier rainout). In the spring of 1974, Garcia started playing with a Grisman aggregation called The Great American Sting Band. Garcia was not a permanent member of the band, but he did play with them regularly from March 10, 1974 through June 13, 1974, including a one-time reunion of Old And In The Way in Marin (on April 28).

During the 1973-74 period, there were only two studio banjo sessions for Garcia that I'm aware of. Part of this had to do with the decline of recording activity in San Francisco after 1972, but in any case, Garcia was not playing guitar sessions either. Garcia did play on the Art Garfunkel album Angel Clare, of all things. The story goes that Garfunkel wanted someone who could play traditional old-time banjo, a style called "frailing," to record the song "Down In The Willow Garden." Garfunkel's New York producer and LA session dudes did not know any local banjo players, but the engineer ventured that he knew a guitar player who played banjo. Supposedly, the engineer said "I know a guitar player..." and called Garcia at home, who assured him he was a great frailer.I don't know the exact date of the Angel Clare sessions, but it was probably early 1973, as the album was released in September 1973.

I also know of one final banjo session by Garcia, at Mickey Hart's studio, for some ACT background music, probably recorded around 1974, that was more a courtesy than anything else. Garcia no longer played banjo on rock records after he had started Old And In The Way.

The circle was finally closed by The Good Old Boys. As I have discussed at length, David Nelson had a part-time bluegrass band with the great mandolinist Frank Wakefield. Ultimately it was decided that they would release an album on Round Records, produced by Garcia. Supposedly, Garcia also played a few gigs with Nelson and Wakefield in 1974, as well. A few Good Old Boys shows were booked in February 1975, but it appears that only one was played. But it did happen and we have an eyewitness. Jerry Garcia's bluegrass banjo career ended on February 21, 1975, at a tiny joint in Santa Cruz, CA, called Margarita's. It is fitting that Garcia played with Nelson (along with Wakefield and bassist Pat Campbell), so that he exited bluegrass just as he entered it.

When Jerry Garcia renewed his collaborations with David Grisman, he would occasionally play some old-time banjo, such as on "The Sweet Sunny South" on Shady Grove but he was no longer a bluegrass gunslinger.
1990s: Clawhammer Redux
Garcia did play banjo again in the 1990s, with David Grisman. However, he only played old-time "clawhammer" style, on songs like "Sweet Sunny South." He did perform the song on tape and in person, but they were set pieces, not representing any kind of commitment to the banjo. In 1993 or so, Garcia visited Ireland, and apparently one night at a pub he was coaxed into playing a few songs on the banjo. Enjoyable as that must have been, that wasn't the former South Bay banjo gunslinger taking on all comers, just a middle-aged guy in a bar plunking out a few tunes to amuse his fellow patrons. The banjo had been an essential instrument in Garcia's musical arc, it resurfaced, had a renaissance, and then it had gone.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

"Me And My Uncle" 1966-95 (Folk Tradition)

The Judy Collins Concert album, released on Elektra Records in early 1964, included the first recorded  version of "Me And My Uncle"
No fan of the music of the 1960s can lose sight of the fact that we are at the 50th anniversary of everything: the formation of the Grateful Dead (1965), Bob Dylan's Blonde On Blonde (1966), the Summer Of Love (1967) and numerous other cultural milestones. Yet one milestone has gone unremarked, which is surprising amongst the trainspotting Deadhead culture. Come the end of 2016, why did we not see endless homages to the 50th Anniversary of the Grateful Dead's first known performance of John Phillips' song "Me And My Uncle?"  Since no one else has seen fit to do it, it is left to me, even if we are now approaching the 52nd year.

Before there was an electric Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir played folk music. In principle, folk music consisted of songs that were passed on in an oral tradition, usually in cultures where there were few, if any, other ways to transmit songs.  In fact, many songs we now consider "folk songs" often had a specific composer, but even then the origins of the songs were murky. Sometimes singers wrote down known songs in order to capture the publishing rights. In other cases, the original songs got transfigured by the folk tradition, so that while the root of the songs could be traced, the original version differed significantly from the more well-known version sung by "folks." In any case, the tradition tends towards folk songs that either have no author or an attribution to a long-ago person for whom we often have little more than a faded sepia photograph. Peggy-O, she was pretty, and blonde, supposedly a maid of Fife-i-o, so pretty that a Captain fell in love with her. But who was she, really? The song does not say.

The Grateful Dead, although an electric rock band modeled on the Rolling Stones, was nonetheless profoundly embedded in the folk tradition. "Me And My Uncle" is very much part of a folk tradition, in a very traditional way, with a confusing origin story that borders on a fable, and a seemingly serendipitous transmission. Yet for all of that it is part in a folk tradition, the song defies the folk convention, since its author was famous and successful, the song only circulated because of the conscious intervention of another famous singer, and there was a tape recorder involved. For all that, the reality of the origins of "Me And My Uncle" remain just beyond our grasp.

How Many Is 616?
The old Deadbase calculated that the Grateful Dead performed "Me And My Uncle" 616 times. I have no reason to doubt this number, but it's important to remember that it's a minimum. Although the band probably didn't perform "Me And My Uncle" often in 1966, we have very few tapes from 1966. Our first recorded evidence of the song is from the Matrix on November 29, 1966, so there are very likely a few other performances of the song from that era. Furthermore, while you can define "performances" any way you like, remember that the New Riders Of The Purple Sage performed "Me And My Uncle" regularly in 1969 and '70, with Jerry Garcia on pedal steel guitar, and on at least some occasions with Bob Weir guesting on lead vocals (May 1 and May 2, 1970, just to cite some specific examples). So 616 performances of the song by the Grateful Dead is a baseline, not a total.

Individual solo artists with long careers may perform for decades, but it's a lot rarer for groups. It's even rarer for groups that have some kind of quorum of "original" members. Willie Nelson, a solo performer, has no doubt performed "Night Life" and "Whisky River" uncountable times, but he is only beholden to himself. A band has to keep its members together and stay out on the road for decades at a time, a project that is actually harder when the band is famous.

Think about the Rolling Stones, one of the very few groups that were contemporary to the Grateful Dead and yet remained touring with a quorum of original members for three decades. I looked into it, and while my statistics are hardly perfect, between the 1960s and August 9, 1995, the song that the Rolling Stones played the most was "Jumpin' Jack Flash." Since the song's live debut on December 11, 1968, the Rolling Stones have performed "Jumpin' Jack Flash" at every concert since then, as far as I can tell. I counted, however , and as best I can calculate, between 1968 and August 8, 1995, the Rolling Stones played "Jumpin' Jack Flash" in concert 615 times. Now, I may be off by a few (see below for a glimpse of my methodology), but that doesn't affect the big picture. Over three decades, the Rolling Stones played their best known song as many times as the Grateful Dead played an obscure cowboy song that Bob Weir learned from a fellow hippie. In the Big Picture, this is strange, and strange in a way that intertwines with the uniquely 60s saga of the Grateful Dead.

update: Commenter Ben reports that the Rolling Stones debuted "Jumping Jack Flash" on the NME Pollwinners TV show on May 12, 1968. This means that the Stones played the song at least 616 known times, the exact number of known performances of "Me And My Uncle."

New Directions In Folk Music, by The Journeymen (John Phillips, Scott McKenzie and Dick Weismann), the third album by the group, released on Capitol Records in 1963
John Phillips and "Me And My Uncle"
Like many Deadheads, I discovered "Me And My Uncle" from the Grateful Dead ("Skull & Roses") double live album. I saw the songwriting credit, but my teenage self thought it unlikely that the "John Phillips" was the man who had written and arranged classic pop hits for The Mamas And The Papas like "Monday, Monday" and "California Dreaming." "John Phillips" seemed like a common name, and I figured it was just some old Cowboy dude. Why would the Grateful Dead play a song by the leader of a Southern California pop band, and one they had made fun of in the past for writing the embarrassing "San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)"? But it was him, and the story was very strange indeed.

Sometime in late 1963, there was a folk concert in New Mexico. Apparently, after the show, some of the performers got together and, in the practice of the time, passed a guitar around in a circle, and each person would play a song. Bye the bye, at this party, apparently, a lot of tequila was consumed. Presumably, among the performers at the concert had been The Journeymen, featuring John Phillips, who had three albums on Capitol Records, and Judy Collins, then a rising young folk singer with three successful albums on Elektra. One little-recalled problem about folk music in the early 60s was that there were a limited number of actual folk songs, and folk artists were always on the lookout for something new to play.

In early 1964, Judy Collins released her fourth album on Elektra, The Judy Collins Concert. One of the songs was "Me And My Uncle," credited to John Phillips. Phillips called Collins, and told her "I never wrote such a song," or words to that effect. Collins replied that he had indeed done so, and she had a tape. Collins had taped the "tequila session" after the New Mexico show, and Phillips had apparently made up "Me And My Uncle" on the spot. Phillips himself was blind drunk and had no memory of it. Collins, an astonishingly ethical performer, had sent a copy of the song to Phillips' publishing company so that the song would be published in his name, and then recorded it.

Now, Judy Collins is a wonderful singer with an engaging voice, and I understand that singers engage a persona when they sing, and that Johnny Cash did not, in fact, shoot a man in Reno. Nonetheless, I don't find it thoroughly convincing when she sings "I slapped him in the jaw" (much less "it being summer, I took off my shirt"), but, hey, props for Judy for rescuing the song from obscurity, and being honorable about the publishing. Collins was a very popular folk singer, and so the song got around, the way folk songs did back in the day. This is how someone like Garcia knew "Morning Dew" or "Alberta." Whether or not he had heard a record, someone would have played him a song and he would remember it.

Joni Mitchell performing "Me And My Uncle" on the Canadian (CBC) TV show Let's Sing Out in Fall 1965 (for the YouTube link, see here)
The strangest version of "Me And My Uncle" is from a Canadian (CBC) show called Let's Sing Out in Fall 1965, featuring Canadian folk singer Joni Mitchell. Yes, the very same. The guitar playing is great, and Joni owns the camera, but let's just say it's a long way to the Big Yellow Taxi, much less a Hissing Of Summer Lawns. The one thing we can take from this peculiar performance is that the song was "around" because it had been on a Judy Collins album, even if the composer himself did not recall it. In the 1960s and 70s, various singers recorded "Me And My Uncle," including Dino Valente and John Denver, among many others.

"Curly Jim" Stalarow, ca. 1967, on the steps of 710 Ashbury, probably stripped from a Gene Anthony photo (h/t Holly for identifying him)
Who Was Curly Jim?
As far as I know, Blair Jackson was the first to try and find out where Bob Weir had heard "Me And My Uncle." In some mid-80s edition of Golden Road, Weir said that he had learned the song "from a hippie named Curly Jim." Blair, along with me and everyone else, assumed that was guitarist James "Curley" Cooke (1945-2011), a member of the Steve Miller Band back in 1966. It made perfect sense, and that sufficed for a few decades. Several years ago, however, researching another matter, I was in touch with someone who knew Curley Cooke from way back when, and I mentioned that Cooke must have been the "Curly Jim" who taught Weir "Me And My Uncle." She replied, much to my surprise, that Curly Jim was a different person entirely than Curley Cooke. As if that wasn't enough, she confirmed with Cooke that he hadn't taught Weir the song, and even sent me a picture of the actual Curly Jim on the steps of 710 Ashbury. Taking advantage of the miracle of the Internet, I wrote a blog post called "Who Was Curly Jim?" I repeated much of the information included above. It wasn't long before the Internet directed me to the answer.

"Curly Jim" was one James Stalarow, one of those 60s characters who keeps turning up in interesting places. In 1965 Texas, he was the first manager of the legendary 13th Floor Elevators. The story of the Elevators is too hard a tangent to go into, but suffice to say, being a long-haired freak in 1965 Texas was a very different proposition than in mellow San Francisco. Stalarow apparently had a little money, somehow, not much, but enough to buy groceries when his fellow freaks were starving, so he seems to have helped arrange gigs for the band. The 13th Floor Elevators had moved to San Francisco in the Fall of 1966, as Texas had gotten too hot even for them, and Stalarow went too. It's not at all clear to me whether Stalarow went out to San Francisco first and invited the Elevators, or if he went out along with them. In any case, he ended up in the Haight Ashbury, although I think his connection to the Elevators was more informal by that time.

The Grateful Dead, or at least Garcia, were clearly aware of the 13th Floor Elevators, but they never played on the same bill, more's the pity. There were still so few long-hairs in San Francisco at the time that it's no surprise Stalarow fell in with the 710 crowd, whether or not he had known anyone in their circle beforehand (probably the connection was through a band called The Outfit, who had rehearsed at the Straight Theater). Like many hippies, he played a little guitar and wrote some songs, so teaching Weir "Me And My Uncle" was the kind of thing that musicians used to do in the days before cassettes--it you knew a song, you taught it to your friend, because it wasn't cheap to swap a tape.

Folk music is at its heart a tradition, and songs are a way of passing tales from one to another. Of course, folk music isn't as good at passing tales as the Internet. So when I wondered on my blog about the identity of "Curly Jim," I got some great comments. I found them very convincing, but you have to decide for yourself how "true" they were--kinda like  a folk song.
An anonymous commenter wrote
I met Jim Stalarow (aka Curly Jim) in the mid 70's. We played music in Houston and wrote a few songs together. He had just gotten out of prison in Mexico from a drug bust. He told me he was at the party where "Me and My Uncle" was written and had provided some of the lyrics himself. He said Philips never credited him for his part but he didn't really mind. And yes he was an early Elevators manager and brought Roky around for a living room jam session once. He was definitely a character and a lot thinner than what you see in that picture, at least he was in the 70's.
When I queried about Roky jamming, the same commenter went on to add
Sorry, I wasn't clear about Roky. Jim brought him in the mid 70's to jam with us in Houston, not the Dead. It was soon after Roky had written "Two Headed Dog". Years ago I found several online mentions of Jim in relation to The Great Society and Quicksilver. You might still be able to find them. While Jim was in prison, Joe Smith from Warner Brothers sent him a (fairly new at the time) cassette recorder so he could write music. I still have the original lyric sheets in a closet somewhere.
It is entirely plausible that Stalarow was at the infamous "Tequila Party." Only Judy Collins seems to have been (at least somewhat) sober, and she would not likely have known the identity of every other person there, in any case. It certainly makes poetic sense if an eyewitness and participant to the creation of the song passed it on to the singer who made the song well known. Of course, the only other information we have about the party comes from John Phillips himself, who says that Stephen Stills and Neil Young were there, too. This cannot be true. Neither of them had met the other, as Stills was in school in Florida and Young in Canada, so the whole idea is a fiction. Certainly Phillips knew them both later, in Los Angeles, but he is imposing a memory on the party that simply wasn't fact.

What became of the tape? In order to publish the song, Collins would have had to have had the song transcribed and sent to Phillips' publishers. This would have been unorthodox, but since she was a hit artist, a few phone calls would have cleared that up, and in any case, Phillips' company would have wanted to facilitate the recording. The tape itself would be pretty fascinating, just to hear what such a party sounded like in Fall 1963, but Collins has never suggested she still had the tape or knew what happened to it.

The Jefferson Airplane performed Jim Stalarow's "Blind John" on their final tour. The last Airplane show, September 22, 1972 at Winterland, was released on cd and included the song. 

The Story Continues: "CJ Stetson"
Mickey Hart's 1972 Rolling Thunder album had credits for just about everyone in the PERRO/Marin/post-Fillmore West crowd. Two songs, "Blind John" and "Hangin' On," had songwriting credits of music by CJ Stetson and words by Peter Monk.  "Blind John" was sung by Paul Kantner, David Freiberg and Grace Slick, and "Hangin' On" by Freiberg.

"Blind John" (words: Peter Monk/music: CJ Stetson)
  • Steven Schuster - flute
  • Grace Slick - piano, vocals
  • Mickey Hart - field drums, tympani
  • Greg Errico - drums
  • Tower of Power Horns
  • Barry Melton - guitar, vocals
  • David Freiberg - guitar, vocals
  • Paul Kantner - vocals
"Hangin' On" (words: Peter Monk/music: CJ Stetson)

  • John Cipollina - guitar
  • Barry Melton - guitar
  • Robbie Stokes - guitar
  • David Freiberg - bass, piano, viola, vocals
  • Mickey Hart - drums
  • Tower of Power Horns

While Peter Monk turned out to be Buddhist monk Peter Zimels, who co-wrote "Passenger" with Phil Lesh, I always assumed that "CJ Stetson" was a psuedonym for the Jefferson Airplane crew. I thought this because not only were Slick, Kantner and Freiberg on the record, but the Airplane had even performed the song live (it was on the semi-official 2007 UK cd release Last Flight, recorded September 22, 1972 at the final Jefferson Airplane concert at Winterland). I wasn't the only person who thought CJ Stetson was a pseudonym, Well, I was wrong.

Fellow scholar LightIntoAshes weighed in with a remarkable find:
Robert Hunter actually mentioned this guy in his April 1980 interview with the UK magazine Dark Star - they ask him, "Who is C.J. Stetson?"
RH: "Ah, Curly Jim - he's a guitar player and singer."
DS: "Oh, he is a real person - people have often wondered if it was a pseudonym for Barry Melton..."
RH: "Where did this come from?"
DS: "He's on Rolling Thunder. He's credited with Peter Monk."
RH: "That'll be Curly Jim then."
So Curly Jim was still part of the extended Grateful Dead scene in the early 1970s, enough so that his song became part of the latterday Jefferson Airplane repertoire.

Alex Allan, the proprietor of Grateful Dead Lyrics and Song Finder, whose intelligence is always top-shelf, passed on an email, summarizing the story
"C.J. Stetson is not a pseudonym that the performers used, but is a real person. His real name is "Texas" Jim Stalarow. He was a regular in the San Francisco music scene in the late 60s/early 70s, and prior to that briefly managed The Thirteenth Floor Elevators. I know this because his sister was, until quite recently, my landlady. One day we got to talking about Roky Erikson and The Thirteenth Floor Elevators when she brought up her brother Jim and asked if I had ever heard the Mickey Hart album "Rolling Thunder". She let me borrow an old dog-eared copy she had on vinyl, saying that "he was going by the name C.J. Stetson at the time". Then she showed me the photo montage on the album cover and pointed him out, and I knew she wasn't lying. They look very much alike. His headshot is in the lower right hand corner of the montage--- the person with the fu-manchu beard to the immediate right of the guy in the striped shirt. She said he had passed away, but she didn't tell me when."

Me And My Uncle
Folk music is a way of telling tales, often about tellers of tales. A captain fell in love, with a lady like a dove. Somebody had a girlfriend, "and she meant the world to me," but she went down to the Deep Elem district in Dallas, and she ain't what she used to be. Tom Dooley loved Laura Foster, yet Tom Dooley killed her, and now he's bound to die. They all make for good song material.

But there really was a Tom Dula, and Laura Foster really was found dead. Yet Tom's role in her death remains controversial. The actual story seems even more complex, and we will likely never know the real answer. The other songs beg for answers, too; why did the singer's girlfriend even go down to Deep Elem in the first place? And Pretty Peggy-O--what was her view of events? She said her mama would be angry-o, sure, but how did she feel herself? Folk songs ask the questions, but they don't answer them. That's why they are folk songs, rather than folk tales, because we have to supply the conclusions ourselves.

Some folksingers had a party in New Mexico in 1963, and sang some songs. A songwriter wrote a song, apparently on the spot. Remarkably, the song was preserved and thus passed on, in the folk tradition. James Stalarow knew the song, and passed it on to his friend Bob Weir. Weir's band turned out to never break up. Not only did his band perform that song more than any other, the successor is still playing the song this Summer, 51 years after Weir learned it. Yet we can't find out the history of the song, even though the people involved are famous and lived in the media age of the 20th century. In this case, the folk tradition is in the transmission of the song itself, rather than the song, but the appeal of the song lies in its mystery, not its facts, just like "Pretty Peggy-O."

The picture sleeve to The Rolling Stones "Jumpin' Jack Flash" single, released in May 1968
Appendix: The Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash"
(Some notes on my conclusion that the Rolling Stones performed "Jumping Jack Flash" 615 times)
Firstly, I want to say in advance that while I was careful, I did not check my work, and I could be off by a few performances. It appears that after it was recorded, "Jumpin' Jack Flash" was performed at every single Stones concert thereafter. So I counted the total number of concerts, but I did not actually check every setlist. If anyone has a source that counts the number of Rolling Stones performances of individual songs, please pass along the link.

"Jumpin' Jack Flash" was recorded in London in April 1968, and released in May 1968. However, the Rolling Stones were not touring or performing during 1968. Thus the live debut of the song was at session for the TV special "The Rolling Stones' Rock And Roll Circus" on December 11, 1968. For an ending point, I looked at the last Rolling Stones concert before Jerry Garcia's death, which happened to be August 8, 1995 in Budapest, Hungary (their next show was August 12, in Germany). From Rock And Roll Circus to Budapest, I counted 615 Rolling Stones concerts (I counted double shows on the same night as two shows). Since "Jumpin' Jack Flash" was part of every tour, I have assumed 615 performances of the song. They could have left it off a few shows, or performed it a few times on television shows, which weren't part of the concert database, so 615 is an approximation, but an accurate one. The important point is that the Grateful Dead played "Me And My Uncle" as many times as the Rolling Stones played "Jumpin' Jack Flash," even if the exact number of either isn't precise.

Incidentally, although "I Can't Get No (Satisfaction)" was released in 1965, and performed regularly on 1965 and '66 Stones tours, it was not performed nearly as often as "Jumpin' Jack Flash," In general terms, the Stones did not perform "Satisfaction" regularly throughout all of their 70s tours, It came back into their set in the 1980s, but by my count "Satisfaction" was performed only about 430 times between  September 3, 1965 (the live debut in Dublin, IRL) and August 8, 1995.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Lost Jerry Garcia Jams (Meta-Jerry)

Jerry Garcia's history as an improvisational musician has been groundbreaking not just for his formidable talents, but also for the breadth of available recordings.  A few great 60s jazz artists like Miles Davis and John Coltrane have a fair number of live and studio recordings circulating, both official and unofficial, but even those legacies are dwarfed by available Garcia material. Not only did the Grateful Dead themselves and Deadheads tape relentlessly, Garcia toured far more than almost anyone else of his stature so there are literally mountains of Garcia tapes.

There are tapes of perhaps 2000 out of 2400 Grateful Dead shows, and about 1300 of 1600 Garcia shows. This doesn't count studio sessions, jams with various friends and who knows what else. I suspect there are few, if any, people who have heard them all. Nonetheless, Deadheads of all stripes rarely fail to marvel at the sheer breadth of Garcia's musical adventures: from spacey "Dark Star" to Bakersfield-inspired "Big River," from traditional bluegrass picking on "Pig In A Pen" to a reflective "Babe It Ain't No Lie," from playing steel guitar on the #1 hit "Teach Your Children" to processed guitar on Ned Lagin's electronic music. It is a true challenge to make a whole out of all Garcia's known musical parts.

Yet for all that, there are still undiscovered Garcia countries. These countries are so distant that we may never visit them, but we know from other travelers that they really existed. Most Garcia scholars focus on recordings that exist, to attempt to calculate the scope of the known universe. This post will be an attempt to expand the known Garciaverse itself by listing some of the known Garcia jams and guest appearances for which we appear to have no recordings, in order to contemplate the vastness of it all.

Missing Garcia Music
A few ground rules
  • This is a list of untaped or unheard Garcia jams or guest appearances that expand our idea of Garcia's music. If we are ever lucky enough to uncover any of this material, whether good or bad it will expand our picture of what kind of music Garcia was trying to play, whether we like it or not.
  • This is not a list of every untaped or undocumented Garcia jam. Someone ought to make that list, but that someone is definitely not me.
  • This isn't even list of undocumented Garcia that contains known components. I'd love to hear a Blues For Allah rehearsal that had Ned Lagin playing electric piano on "Crazy Fingers" instead of Keith Godchaux, if it exists, but that's just a different combination of known elements.
  • Nor is this a list of Garcia jams where we only have a slice of the pie. I'm sure the Rob Wasserman Trios session outtakes with Garcia, Wasserman and Edie Brickell are cool, but we have two album tracks, so for this post that counts as the known universe
  • If you think I left something off that belongs in this list, please add it in the Comments
Searsville Lake, near Stanford University, in the early 60s. Jerry Garcia performed at parties here, playing electric bass with The Zodiacs
Troy Weidenheimer and The Zodiacs: Searsville Lake and elsewhere, ca 1963-64
Jerry Garcia was a folk musician in 1963, giving lessons at Dana Morgan Music in Palo Alto. He was also just a musician, and a broke one, too, so when store manager and guitarist Troy Weidenheimer had a gig and didn't have a bassist, Garcia filled in. Leaving aside the idea of live Garcia bass playing, itself unprecedented, Garcia himself identified Weidenheimer as a significant musical influence, and I am aware of no known tape recording of Weidenheimer's music, even without any famous friends.

The Zodiacs apparently played fraternity parties around Stanford University at places like Searsville Lake. The band had a floating membership, but Garcia would sometimes play bass, Bill Kreutzmann would sometimes play drums, and Pigpen would sometimes play harmonica. The band's membership could float because they had no songs and didn't rehearse. According to Garcia, Weidenheimer would just call out a key, stomp his feet in time and start to play some blues. At the time, Garcia was mainly a bluegrass musician, but the Zodiac approach to electric blues sure came in handy a few years later.

Big Brother and The Holding Company: Avalon Ballroom, October 16, 1966
Big Brother and The Holding Company were part of the same underground scene as the Grateful Dead, and bassist Peter Albin went all the way back to Garcia's folk days. The Dead and Big Brother had shared bills many times, so Garcia surely knew all their material. We think of the jagged, structured Big Brother sound as on a different plane than the free-flowing Grateful Dead. Yet on Sunday, October 16, 1966, the local fanzine Mojo Navigator reported that Jerry Garcia sat in with Big Brother for a few numbers at The Avalon Ballroom. He would have known the tunes--I wonder which ones they were?

The grounded ferry boat Charles Van Damme, in Sausalito, where it was a venue called The Ark in the mid-1960s
Jerry Garcia, Jerry Miller, Michael Brown, others: The Ark, Sausalito, CA ca October 1966
Guitarist Jerry Miller had been in a Tacoma group called The Frantics, who ultimately ended up in San Bruno, of all places. One late night Miller found himself in a pickup joint called The In Room in nearby Belmont, and found a very strange band playing there, and became friends with another guitar-playing Jerry.

Just a year later, Miller was in a band called Moby Grape, and rehearsing on an old paddleboat steamer in the Sausalito Harbor called the Charles Van Damme, which was better known for housing a nightclub called The Ark. The Wildflower, another local band, had formed at the California College Of Arts And Crafts in Oakland, and was also regular part of the underground scene. As the Grape were always rehearsing in anticipation of a November '66 debut, guitarists like Jerry Garcia and the Wildflower's Michael Brown regularly dropped by The Ark to jam with Miller and anyone else who wanted to play.

Jerry Garcia, Peter Green, Pigpen, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood: Novato, CA January 13, 1969
Most Deadheads are aware that Fleetwood Mac guitarist Peter Green twice jammed on stage with the Grateful Dead (Feb 1 and Feb 11 '70), as fabulous Owsley tapes endure of both nights. What is less well known is that Green and Garcia had jammed a year earlier and the circumstances were quite different. In the 60s, it was expected that when English bands played the Fillmore, they would jam with whatever San Francisco bands were in town, not just to share music but to show that they were fearless gunslingers. Most of these jams were not recorded.

On Fleetwood Mac's second trip to San Francisco, the Dead were in town, so on an off day, the Mac went over to the Dead's rehearsal studio. According to Mac road manager and soundman Dinky Dawson, the lineup that day was Green, bassist John McVie, drummer Mick Fleetwood, Garcia, and Pigpen on piano. On the menu: Chicago blues, with Pigpen as Otis Spann. Wow. Don't stop thinking about tomorrow.

Rubber Duck (Joe McCord): various, mid-1970
The Rubber Duck>Garcia connection is a very odd one, which had largely been ignored until JGMF managed to unravel some of the story. Joseph McCord was a mime who performed in Berkeley and the Bay Area in 1969-70, backed by a floating contingent of rock musicians, generally using the name Rubber Duck. On several occasions, Rubber Duck opened for the Grateful Dead or related aggregations. It seems that much of the music for the performances was somewhat improvised.

Remarkably, on several occasions in 1970, Jerry Garcia was part of the ensemble improvising behind McCord. JGMF managed to pin down some dates at Mandrake's, in Berkeley, on June 2 and 3, 1970 (the lengthy comment thread, including comments from McCord, is quite informative), and it appears there were some others, too. I'm not certain who else played with Garcia when he backed McCord.

Later in 1970, McCord converted his performances into an off-Broadway show called Tarot, which played briefly in New York in early 1971. An album also called Tarot, apparently consisting of the backing music to the show was released on United Artists in 1972, although the show had long since folded. The record was credited to a group called Touchstone, and included organist Tom Constanten. Constanten had been one of the musicians backing McCord in Berkeley, though it doesn't appear that TC and Garcia backed him on the same dates.

Your mileage may vary with mimes, but Garcia's performances with McCord are not at all similar to his other endeavors, since he was in effect providing "soundtrack music" rather than making an exclusively musical presentation.

Jerry Garcia and Howard Wales were advertised as playing the Matrix in the Monday, June 22 edition of the SF Chronicle. In fact, Vince Guaraldi took over the keyboard chair for Wales.
Jerry Garcia, Bill Champlin, Vince Guaraldi, John Kahn, Bill Vitt: The Matrix, June 22, 1970
The principal Jerry Garcia side exercise, jamming R&B in nightclubs with a variety of keyboard players, got started in 1970 at The Matrix, first with Howard Wales, and then with Merl Saunders. Yet at least one night, when Wales was unavailable, the surprise guest was jazz legend Vince Guaraldi. Although Guaraldi was best known for his "Peanuts" piano theme, for this night he was playing a well-amplified Fender Rhodes.

So this is something else entirely, Garcia and his regular rhythm section of John Kahn and Bill Vitt, improvising with an amplified Vince Guaraldi. We figured out the date--June 22, 1970--and thanks to Guaraldi biographer Derrick Bang, we even have an eywitness. The eyewitness, the Head Son himself, Bill Champlin, was invited by his pal Bill Vitt to sit in, so we not only have Jerry and Vince, we have Champlin on rhythm guitar. Did I mention Vince Denham on saxophone? What did it sound like, and what tunes did they jam off? There's no tapes, of course. We'll just have to wonder.

Jerry Garcia, Vince Guaraldi, Seward McCain, Mike Clark: Pierce Street Annex, Summer '72
In the Summer of '72, Merl Saunders and John Kahn had departed to Woodstock, NY, to join the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Garcia was left with no side band. It turns out that for amusement, he played some fusion jazz on weeknights at a Fern Bar called The Pierce Street Annex--which happened to be the re-named Matrix. And he didn't play it with just anyone.

Once again, Garcia connected with Vince Guaraldi, but instead of playing "Linus And Lucy" on the piano, Gauraldi played a Fender Rhodes straddling two 150-watt amplifiers. Garcia had his usual array of amps, and on drums was the titan of Oakland funk, Mike Clark. There's no doubt about this, according to both bassist Seward McCain and Clark (saxophonist Vince Denham probably sat in at least once, too). The idea of Garcia, Vince and Clark playing "Bitches Brew" style music, as Clark described it, is mind-boggling.  Of course there's no tape. I speculate at length, elsewhere. Try and wrap your brain around this one.

Ned Lagin has released a fine new album, Cat Dreams
Jerry Garcia and Ned Lagin "electro acoustic" ca. 1972-73
Ned Lagin has a unique place in the history of the Grateful Dead. The musically trained keyboard player met the band at MIT in 1970, after having written them a letter. He sat in with the band on organ and electric piano various times in 1970 and '71, visited the band in the Summer of '72, and ultimately moved out to the West Coast in 1973. Deadheads recall his remarkable experiments with Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart and Jerry Garcia, collectively known as Seastones. Deadheads also recall Ned some 1974 performances where he bridged his modernist synthesized experiments between sets with Phil Lesh with some jazzy electric piano, as the Dead returned to the stage. There is plenty of recorded evidence, too, carefully curated in a wonderful website.

Yet buried in the list of Ned Lagin's many endeavors with members of the Dead are some unheard experiments. In particular, it seems that in both '72 and '73, Ned regularly played acoustic duets with both Jerry Garcia and David Crosby. Lagin probably played a clavichord. What music did Lagin play with Garcia (or Crosby, for that matter)? Even if they played old folk songs, and they very well may not have, Jerry and Ned playing "Dark Hollow" would be very different than, say, Garcia and David Bromberg doing the same thing. According to Lagin, he and Garcia had some kind of long-range plan for recording "electro acoustic music," whatever that might have been.

Jerry Garcia and David Bromberg: Grateful Dead Headquarters at 5th and Lincoln, San Rafael, ca. 1973
Esteemed scholars Blair Jackson and David Gans included too many amazing quotes to count in their wonderful oral history of the Grateful Dead, This Is All A Dream We Dreamed. One remarkable comment came from Grateful Dead Records employee Steve Brown, who casually mentioned that David Bromberg dropped by a few times to jam at the 5th and Lincoln HQ (1016 Lincoln in San Rafael), and Brown had wished there had been a tape recorder. The truly staggering talents of Mr Bromberg are too various to mention, but they idea of free jamming between him and Jerry--never mind the instruments, Bromberg plays 'em all, and he knows every old timey and blues song ever--is too much to contemplate (yes, I know Garcia and others played on a few Bromberg album tracks in 1972, but this is different).

Good Old Boys with Frank Wakefield, David Nelson and Jerry Garcia: various 1974-75
Garcia's bluegrass performances with Old And In The Way were both legendary and influential. It's far less well known that Garcia played a few shows in the Bay Area with banjo legend Frank Wakefield, along with David Nelson. The shows seem to have been from mid-1974 to early 1975. Unlike many other entries on this list, a reliable source claims to have actually heard a tape. So we may yet hear another side of Garcia's banjo playing, accompanying Wakefield, himself a bluegrass legend. This story is too long to tell here, but fortunately I have done it elsewhere.

Jerry Garcia, Tony Rice and David Grisman jammed in 1993, but not for the first time
David Grisman Quintet with Tony Rice and Jerry Garcia: Mill Valley, CA 1975
Garcia fans are familiar with the casual but brilliant acoustic collaboration of Jerry Garcia, David Grisman and guitarist Tony Rice, recorded on two evenings in 1993 at Grisman's garage studio, and released in 2000 as The Pizza Tapes. Rice, an acoustic guitar titan, had been the guitarist in the original David Grisman Quintet back in the mid-70s.

In the liner notes, however, Grisman skates over his complex history with Garcia by merely mentioning that Rice and Garcia had not played together since the time Garcia dropped into a DGQ rehearsal in Mill Valley in 1975. Think about it: one of the most important ensembles in American acoustic music, young and in their prime, rehearsing, and hey--the mandolinist's old bluegrass buddy drops in for a jam. I wonder what they played?

Jerry Garcia and Pete Sears: Mill Valley ca mid-1980s
By the mid-1980s, Jerry Garcia was touring pretty heavily with both the Grateful Dead and The Jerry Garcia Band. The shows were lucrative, and Jerry was an icon, so there was a lot less opportunity for him to just hang out and play music. Nonetheless, Garcia seems to have found time to jam regularly with Pete Sears, an Englishman who had spent a decade in Jefferson Starship, and would spend another decade in Hot Tuna. Sears lived in or near Mill Valley, and Garcia would apparently drop by and trade licks, blasting away on his electric guitar while the versatile Sears carried the day on his electric piano.

Garcia even introduced Sears and David Nelson, with the idea that maybe the two should form a band together. I couldn't help but think that maybe Garcia was setting the table for another group with which he could make guest appearances. We do have a few instances of Garcia and Sears playing together, but never as a free-form duo, without the pressure of a rocking crowd and heightened expectations. Ultimately, Sears joined the David Nelson Band, so Garcia got his way, but he wasn't around to sit in.

Once "Touch Of Grey" hit, Garcia was in a gilded bubble of his own making. It was hard enough to find places where he could just play music in peace,  which was one of the many attractions of hanging out in David Grisman's garage. But the opportunity to randomly stop by with an old friend or have a new one drop in out of the blue were pretty much gone. It remains remarkable, however, that for the thousands of hours of known Garcia tapes, there are still things we wish we would get to hear.

Who among us can ever forget the catchy tunes and lilting rhythms of Magma's second album, released in 1971, 1001 Degrees Centigrades?
Appendix: Everybody Else
The other members of the Grateful Dead got around, if not quite like Jerry, but for the most part their collaborations are either on tape or would not expand our perspective. However, there are still a few appearances that may cause us to think again about the band members' music.

Jimi Hendrix, Bob Weir, others: music pavilion, Monterey Pop Festival, June 17 or 18, 1967
At the Monterey Pop Festival, various equipment companies had displays backstage in little tent-like pavilions, to encourage musicians to try out different gear. Bob Weir was jamming away at one of them, with several other musicians, including a frizzy-haired black guitarist who could really play. On Sunday night at the Festival, Weir saw that same guy come onstage right after the Dead.

Cleanliness And Godliness Skiffle Band with Mickey Hart: The Matrix, San Francisco, Spring or Summer, 1969
The Cleanliness And Godliness Skiffle Band were not a major band, with only two albums to their name, but they played an important part in Berkeley rock history. Skiffle music is essentially jug music with a New Orleans beat, and eventually the group evolved from a folk ensemble to a full out rock band. In any case, a band member recalls two nights at The Matrix opening for a very loud Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady (before the name Hot Tuna was in use). Mickey Hart dropped by, probably to see Jorma and Jack, and was intrigued by the skiffle band. The next night Hart bought along a New Orleans style rubboard, and sat in with CGSB.

Sometime later, the CGSB opened for the Grateful Dead in Santa Rosa. On the first night (June 27) Mickey Hart was late, and CGSB drummer Tom Ralston sat in for several numbers. On the second night (June 28), as a sort of thank you, Jerry Garcia sat in with the CGSB on his new pedal steel guitar. You can decide for yourself if the Garcia/CGSB set would belong in the first list.

Jerry Granelli, Phil Lesh, members of Magma: Chateau D'Herouville, France, June 1971
In a little noticed passage in Phil Lesh's autobiography, he mentions that when the Dead went to France to play at Chateau D'Herouville (eventually performing on June 21, 1971), Lesh got a chance to jam in the studio with "drummer Jerry Granelli...and members of the French band Magma, who really stretched me out musically."

Jerry Granelli was a well-known Bay Area jazz drummer, who had played with Vince Guaraldi, among many others. But Magma, well--there's a tale. Let's just go straight to the Wikipedia introduction (remember, this is real, not some weird invented time travel fantasy-emphasis mine)
Magma are a French progressive rock band founded in Paris in 1969 by classically trained drummer Christian Vander, who claimed as his inspiration a "vision of humanity's spiritual and ecological future" that profoundly disturbed him. In the course of their first album, the band tells the story of a group of people fleeing a doomed Earth to settle on the planet Kobaïa. Later, conflict arises when the Kobaïans—descendants of the original colonists—encounter other Earth refugees. 
Vander invented a constructed language, Kobaïan, in which most lyrics are sung
Now, sure, there have been ensembles who suggested they weren't from Earth. Jazz pioneer Sun Ra (Herman Blount) was from Chicago via Birmingham, AL, but said he was from Saturn. George Clinton and the Parliament/Funkadelic gang funkified the Sun Ra vision, but it was the same idea. And there was a French progressive rock band called Gong, led by Australian David Allen, a truly great and very odd band, all of whose numerous albums told the story of aliens from the Planet Gong, known as Pothead Pixies, who arrived on earth in flying teapots. The music was brilliant but the interstellar lyrics were a joke, even if not everyone got it. Gong were label mates with Magma, on BYG/Actuel, but even Gong did not make up their own language. The leader of Magma was the sort of bandleader that made up their own language, and not as a joke. The Grateful Dead, from that point of view, were just another California country rock band. I wonder if they made Phil sing harmonies in Kobai-an?

Allman Brothers Band with Bob Weir and Ronnie Montrose: RFK Stadium, Washington, DC June 9, 1973
Back in the day, Bob Weir rarely made guest appearances, and almost never without Garcia. When the Dead played two nights with the Allman Brothers in 1973, members of the Allmans sat in with the Dead on the final day (June 10). It is somewhat forgotten that on the first day, the Allmans closed the show, and Bob Weir and Ronnie Montrose sat in for "Mountain Jam." Montrose, in fact, was a great, underrated guitarist. He played on Van Morrison's Tupelo Honey album, for example, even though he had the most success as a hard rocker with Edgar Winter ("Frankenstein" and "Free Ride") and his own band Montrose, featuring lead singer Sammy Hagar ("Bad Motor Scooter" and "Spaceage Sacrifice").

But how did Weir acquit himself with the Allman Brothers? There are a fair amount of Allman Brothers tapes around from the early 1970s, but I don't know if there is a circulating one from the end of the June 9, 1973. Weir playing rhythm for Dickey Betts and Ronnie Montrose was a pretty intriguing proposition.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Album Economics: Skeletons From The Closet (The Lost Door)

The cover of Skeletons From The Closet-The Best of The Grateful Dead, released in February of 1974 on Warner Brothers Records. It is the best-selling Grateful Dead album ever, having certified sales of over 3 million units (Triple Platinum)
Ask anyone--what was the best selling Grateful Dead album of the 1970s? Some may argue for the persistence of Workingman's Dead or American Beauty over the immediate popularity of 1971's Grateful Dead (aka "Skull And Roses"), but it doesn't matter, because none of those were it. The best selling Grateful Dead album was a February, 1974 release on Warner Brothers Records called Skeletons From The Closet-The Best of The Grateful Dead. The album went Triple Platinum, which means that 3 million units were sold. Even In The Dark only went Double Platinum, so Skeletons seems to be the best selling Grateful Dead album of all time. I am not concerned with the final tally, however, notwithstanding I have no reason to believe record company assertions in any case. Rather, I am interested in focusing on the forgotten fact that Skeletons From The Closet was the introduction to the Grateful Dead for a legion of suburban young people who very well may have forgotten it.

The Eagles-Their Greatest Hits (1971-75), released in February 1976 on Asylum Records. It is the best-selling ablum of the 20th century. As of 2009, the RIAA had certified sales of 29 million copies, only behind Thriller. The album didn't even include "Hotel California," which hadn't yet been recorded. The members of The Eagles were not happy it was released, and had no input.
"Best Of" Albums
In the universe of the 1960s music industry, artists didn't have much leverage. One way in which artists were beholden was that they had no direct control of the repackaging of previously released material. If a band had put out a couple of albums and then changed labels, for example, their old label would put together a "new" album of their best known songs as a "Greatest Hits" or "Best Of" (if they had no hits). The "Best Of" album inevitably competed with any newly released material, thus punishing artists for changing labels. 

Even into the 1970s, the Best Of album still had a lot of leverage for record companies. While records-only retailers like Tower Records, Sam Goody's and others were opening stores in major markets, and while hip college towns and downtown neighborhoods had sophisticated independent record stores, the majority of albums were still sold in department stores and the like. They would have a few hundred pop albums, mostly current hits, rather than the thousands of albums at a place like Tower. Particularly out in the suburbs, younger rock music fans had to take what they could find at the music departments of stores like Macy's or Payless. If you liked a group, and a Best Of was the only available album at the store, buying the record was often your only choice.

Truth be told, back in the early '70s, buying a Best Of album might have been your best choice, too. Information about rock albums was surprisingly hard to come by, unless you lived in some college town, read Rolling Stone every week and made a study of it (not that I am referring to anyone in particular). For example, if you somehow heard some Canned Heat on the local FM station and got intrigued, you might not have had a lot of choices at your local JC Penney's record section. If it was 1973, should you buy their current album, One More River To Cross, or Canned Heat Cookbook: The Best Of Canned Heat? Typically, those might be your only two choices, It's easy to say that you should have wanted 1967's Boogie With Canned Heat or 1968's Living The Blues, but you might never see those albums without moving to the big city. The fact was, Canned Heat had changed labels, and One More River To Cross was their first album on Atlantic, and it was pretty weak. All the good stuff was on Liberty, so you were better off with Canned Heat Cookbook.

Wake Of The Flood, released October 1973 on Grateful Dead Records. It was the band's first release, and the current album when Skeletons was released several months later
State Of Play, Grateful Dead 1973
Let's set the stage. In mid-1972, the Grateful Dead were coming to the end of their Warner Brothers contract. The Dead had released three successful albums in a row, and Warners were interested in re-signing them. Columbia (CBS) was also interested, as label head Clive Davis had always been a fan of Jerry Garcia and the Dead. The Dead were an increasingly popular touring act, which meant that any new albums would not be solely dependent on radio airplay for success, although in fact Dead songs like "Uncle John's Band" and "Truckin'" got pretty good airplay on many FM stations. With two major labels bidding for them, the Dead were in a pretty powerful position. Of course, being the Grateful Dead, they chose instead to eschew any major labels and go completely independent. Warner Brothers was stunned, and not happy, either.

The Grateful Dead closed out their obligation to Warners with the triple-live release of Europe '72 in November of 1972, and the peculiar archival release The History Of The Grateful Dead, Vol 1 (Bear's Choice) in March 1973, assembled and produced by Owsley "Bear" Stanley. The strange Bear's Choice album was seemingly designed to insure that any momentum from Europe '72 and incessant touring would not accrue to Warners, since only the most devoted of Deadheads would buy the album. This, too, was par for the course in the early 70s record industry. If a band was leaving a label and owed an album, you just delivered some relatively uncommercial music to spite your old company.

Warners may have thought that there was a last-second chance to re-sign the Dead, but it was not to be. The Grateful Dead released Wake Of The Flood on their own label in October, 1973. Wake wasn't a bad album, and it had some pretty good songs, but the biggest problem for Grateful Dead Records was distribution. The entire subject is too hard to get into here, but the essence of it was that rock fans were mostly young teenagers in the suburbs, and when they went to their local Macy's or Payless, they were going to buy something that was available in the record store. If it wasn't a Grateful Dead album, it might be Shootout At The Fantasy Factory (by Traffic), Close To The Edge (by The Yes) or Brothers And Sisters (by the Allman Brothers) because that's what was in the store. It was all well and good for teenagers in Greenwich Village, Berkeley or Palo Alto to have their own wide, snobby choices, but that was a relatively rare privilege. Most teenage rock fans bought the best available album at whatever time Mom drove them to the store. That was how albums went Gold, and Warners excelled at making sure their albums were in every imaginable outlet, through WEA, their mighty distribution arm.

The back cover of Skeletons From The Closet
Skeletons From The Closet-Grateful Dead (Warner Brothers Records, February 1974)
The Grateful Dead don't really talk about Skeletons From The Closet, but the truth was that they participated in its production. There isn't any doubt, as house engineers Betty Cantor and Bill Wolf were credited as editors. That means that Warner Brothers allowed the Dead to put the album together, subject to Warners' approval of course. This, too, was a common arrangement. Given that Warners was going to put out some kind of Best Of The Grateful Dead album, it made sense to give the Dead at least a little input into the album itself. The hidden hammer was that Warners could spite the band by putting out a bad album, and the Dead would lose out on the potential royalties. There was actually a lot of money riding on the album, and the Dead were sensible enough to participate.

I'm not aware of any interview with Betty about the subject, but it's not hard to figure out the parameters of her participation:

Choose the songs, subject to Warners approval
  • This meant that popular FM songs like "Truckin'," "Uncle John's Band," "Sugar Magnolia," "Casey Jones" and "Friend Of The Devil" were mandatory, or Warners would reject the album. Within reason, the other songs were probably Betty's choice. I have no idea if she consulted with band members
Sequence the album
  • Note that the album is not in time order. "Golden Road" is first, but "Friend Of The Devil" is last.
Possibly some technical input, though not remixing. 
  • Betty may have had some say about making sure the volume levels for each track were in sync, but it appears that nothing was remixed, as it would be too expensive, and arguably inappropriate (since buyers would have wanted the original sound of each track).
If you think about the song choices for the album, Betty's hand can be seen. It's all well and good to say "how could you reduce the nine Grateful Dead albums (with 13 lps) to a single album?" But that is what the 70s record industry did, because it was good business. All of the released material (and actually, the unreleased material) was controlled by the record company. Betty Cantor, on behalf of the Dead, could participate or let some stranger do it. So clearly, the Dead at least wanted their own spoon stirring the pot.

While the five songs mentioned were clearly mandatory, the rest were not. Length had to be a factor, so a 23-minute "Dark Star" was out of the question, however important we think it was. It is plain that the goal was to have a broader spectrum of shorter songs that gave some idea of the Grateful Dead's range, beyond the basic appeal of their "hits." Here is the track list:
  • The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion) (Garcia/Lesh/Weir/Kreutzmann/McKernan)
  • Truckin' (Garcia/Lesh/Weir/Hunter) [from American Beauty]
  • Rosemary (Garcia/Hunter)
  • Sugar Magnolia (Weir/Hunter) [from American Beauty]
  • St. Stephen (Garcia/Lesh/Hunter) [from Aoxomoxoa]
  • Uncle John's Band (Garcia/Hunter)
  • Casey Jones (Garcia/Hunter)
  • Mexicali Blues (Weir/Barlow) [from Ace]
  • Turn On Your Love Light (Malone / Scott) [from The Big Ball]
  • One More Saturday Night (Weir) [from Europe '72]
  • Friend Of The Devil (Garcia/Dawson/Hunter)
A few details stand out: 
  • Only Betty Cantor, and perhaps Bob Matthews, would have included "Rosemary" (from Aoxomoxoa) on a Best Of The Grateful Dead album. It's not a bad song, but most Deadheads, myself included, do not recall the melody or the lyrics. Bob and Betty were the engineers on the original recording.
  • The studio "St Stephen" was shorter than the Live/Dead version, even if it wasn't as good
  • The track list includes writing credits for all the existing band members, save Keith and Donna Godchaux, who had none on Warner Brothers. Kreutzmann and Lesh would have got royalties from "The Golden Road" and (in Lesh's case) from "Truckin'" and "St. Stephen." For what turned out to be a triple platinum album, this was no small thing
  • Including a song from Ace insured a writing credit for John Barlow
  • Mickey Hart was not a working member of the Grateful Dead in 1973, so he got no writing credits. Granted, there were few choices, but note that Barlow and Kreutzmann got credits 
  • There were no tracks from Anthem Of The Sun or Grateful Dead {Skull & Roses}
  • The album was sequenced like a mini-concert, with a "Lovelight" rave-up and a "One More Saturday Night" encore, and a soothing "Friend Of The Devil" finale. The point of this was to make the album fun to listen to, since an LP could hardly be put on Shuffle.
John Van Hamersveld's poster for the November 10-11, 1967 concert at Los Angeles' Shrine Expo, featuring Buffalo Springfield/Grateful Dead/Blue Cheer
Cover Art: John Van Hamersveld
Another non-trivial factor in the success of Skeletons From The Closet was the front and back cover art, by poster artist John Van Hamersveld. Album covers were far more influential in selling records back in the 1970s. For one thing, the album needed to catch your eye in the store. For another, albums are big, and people in your dorm room could see what you had. An album with a cool cover was often a talking point, but an anxious teenager would feel that an album with a dumb cover made you look like a dweeb. Many "Best Of" albums, while full of good music, had cheap text or bad pictures on the cover, and they weren't appealing to teenagers who thought that albums were a form of self-expression. But Skeletons had a clever, appropriate cover, the kind that would have been in contention even if the Dead had been picking the cover. It was no accident.

John Van Hamersveld was a legendary psychedelic poster artist. Among many other things, Van Hamersheld had made the iconic movie poster for the 1964 surfing movie Endless Summer, and famous album covers like Magical Mystery Tour and Jefferson Airplane's Crown Of Creation. He had also made the wonderful posters for concerts at the Shrine Exposition Center in Los Angeles in 1967 and 1968. He even made one for the Grateful Dead/Buffalo Springfield concerts on November 10-11, 1967 (above). So although Van Hamersveld had been contracted by Warners, he was the sort of artist the Dead would have hired themselves. The front and back covers are excellent, and they insured that Skeletons looked cool in any dorm room record collection, no small thing in 1974.

The Big Ball, a double lp album from Warners featuring 30 different artists, including the Grateful Dead
The Big Ball-Warner Brothers Records (1970)
The one edited track on Skeletons was a shortened version of "Turn Your Lovelight," from Live/Dead, reduced to 6:30 from the 15:30 minute version on the original album. Whether or not you thought an edit was sacrilegious--I thought so at the time--it was a necessity in order to fit onto the album. What was not widely known was that the edited version of "Lovelight" had already been released in 1970, on an interesting Warner Brothers promotional album called The Big Ball. The Big Ball was actually a pretty creative approach to record promotion, and the edited "Lovelight" probably helped spread the sound of the Dead to people who had never heard them. I myself had owned The Big Ball since 1972, and although I had already known about the Dead, I discovered a lot of acts from that album.

In 1958, Warner Brothers Records had been established as the recorded music division of Warner Brothers Pictures. Studio head Jack Warner was not actually interested in the music business, however, so while Warners released some soundtracks and the like, it was considered the most backwards and least creative of the major record labels. In 1963, Warners merged with the failing Reprise Records, which had been Frank Sinatra's label. More importantly, Reprise head Mo Ostin became President of the new Warner/Reprise Records, and Ostin turned out to be far more important than Sinatra.

Under Mo Ostin, Warner Brothers took steps to catch up with the times. When rock music hit Los Angeles hard, Ostin and Warners dived in. One reason that Warners VP Joe Smith could sign the untamed, anti-commercial Grateful Dead in 1966 to Warners was that the label was desperately trying to be hip. Signing the coolest, most anti-establishment band from the hippest rock city was designed to give Warner Brothers industry credibility, not sell records. Warners made a similar move at the end of 1967 when they signed Frank Zappa away from Verve. They even gave Zappa and his manager two labels of their own, Bizarre and Straight. Once again, this was to look cool to other rock bands, rather than a commercial proposition (although in the end it worked out very well for Warners).

By 1970, Warner/Reprise had signed a lot of rock artists, and put out a bunch of records. Some of them were good, and some of them were even successful. Warners, however, like every other label, was pretty much dependent on AM or FM radio to publicize their artists. If records didn't get played, no one heard them. Even when a record was reviewed in Rolling Stone or elsewhere, there was literally no way to hear even one song, unless you heard it on the radio. Every teenage consumer had spent their allowance money on some album by a cool looking band with a great cover, only to hate it from the first note, so we were all cautious about buying albums where we hadn't heard any song at all.

Warner Brothers attempt to break the radio bottleneck was to release a series of double albums that were sold for only $2.00, when a typical double-lp was $5.99 or so. The album had one track by multiple artists on Warner and Reprise, with a little blurb about each one, along with a picture of the album. For a teenage record buyer, this was a very good deal. The first and most famous of these was The Big Ball, released sometime in 1970. I heard the record in 1972, because a friend of my sister's had it, and I got it for one song. However, as a result, I discovered numerous Warners artists, and probably bought albums by them far sooner than I would have otherwise.

The song which caught my attention was from Truckstop, a solo album by Ed Sanders of The Fugs. The song was called "The Iliad," although we called it "Johnny Piss-Off." It would never, ever be played on the radio. Once I got the album, however, I could contemplate the other 29 artists (see the appendix below for the list of tracks). The lp sides were divided thematically: side one was "folk-rock," side 2 was all English bands, side 3 was "singer-songwriters" and side 4 was "freaks." I of course gravitated to side 4. Other than the Sanders track, there were 5 tracks from different artists on Zappa's labels (The GTOs, Captan Beefheart, The Mothers, Pearls Before Swine and Wild Man Fischer) and the shortened version of "Turn On Your Lovelight." In my case, I had already heard the long version, as my sister had Live/Dead, but just as I discovered Captain Beefheart and the Mothers "WPLJ," not to mention "Johnny Piss-off," other fans must have discovered the Dead. Since the track was already edited, Betty Cantor could use it for Skeletons since she wouldn't accrue any additional expenses by having to re-edit.

A framed copy of the RIAA-certified Gold Album for American Beauty

Gold And Platinum
Hundreds of thousands of people saw the Grateful Dead in the 1970s, and even more in the 1980s and 90s. Yet the historical record is skewed by those Grateful Dead fans--Deadheads--who saw the Grateful Dead many times over the decade, and indeed have remained dedicated fans unto this day. I am certainly among that number. Because of the unique scope of Grateful Dead fan devotion and attention, it is commonplace to read an article, blog or discussion group post from someone who first saw the Dead in the 60s and 70s, saw them numerous times thereafter, and paid scrupulous attention each time (this blog is a typical example). In fact, however, the persistent diligence of hardcore Deadheads gives a narrow picture of who actually saw the Dead. Nothing illustrates this more than the fact that Skeletons From The Closet outsold every other Grateful Dead album.

In February of 1974, when Skeletons was released, the rock audience was mostly young. Sure, a few groovy people had been rock fans since the Beatles hit, and maybe they were in their late 20s. But most rock fans were high school and college age. In particular, the booming rock concert market was getting bigger and bigger because more and more people wanted to see popular bands in person. A rational look at the Grateful Dead's touring schedule tells us that outside of San Francisco and Manhattan, the overwhelming number of people who saw the Grateful Dead were seeing them for the first time, or at most the second. 

Of course, we read stories of a group of hippies from Brooklyn--very often Brooklyn, but that is a different topic--who made some pilgrimage to see the Dead in Tennessee or Virginia, but remember, they were the exceptions. It is an odd skew of the Grateful Dead that the outliers, the hardest core of fans, are the ones defining the historical Grateful Dead experience. The truth is, most people who saw the Dead in Madison, WI or the Jai Alai Fronton in Miami had never seen them before. Seeing the Dead was like seeing Dave Mason or Ten Years After when they came to town. It was fun, but rock concerts were a thing you did with your friends or a date. Sure, the Dead toured for so long that many of them may have ended up seeing them again a decade later or something, just as they saw Mason or Alvin  Lee in the 80s.

If people saw a band and liked them, what did they do? They went and bought an album. The Dead had no revered classic like Dark Side Of The Moon or Rumors, so fans were on their own. If you were just planning to buy one album, then why not buy the album with the most songs that you knew? Most Deadheads don't even own Skeletons, and often don't know it exists, and yet it is the best-selling Grateful Dead album of all time. Since it shifted at least 3 million copies, that tells us how many people out there saw a Dead concert or wondered what the fuss was, and grabbed the record.

Skeletons was certified Gold (500,000 units sold) on March 14, 1980. On December 15, 1986 it was certified Platinum (1 million sold), which means it was still selling long before "Touch Of Grey." It was certified Double Platinum (2 Million) on June 27, 1994) and Triple Platinum (January 31, 1995), as many cassette and cd copies must have been sold as well. Note that the last threshold was reached before Jerry Garcia died. RIAA Certifications (Gold, Platinum etc) are notoriously vague, but the sheer volume of record sales means that the album was a huge seller by any marker. Skeletons was the album of choice for casual Grateful Dead fans, and it turns out there were a lot of those. Sure, lots of fans bought Skeletons and then "got on the bus," but they got the album when they were still thinking of the Dead as a regular rock group,

What A Long Strange Trip It's Been, a double-lp compilation of Grateful Dead music released on Warner Brothers in October, 1977
What A Long Strange Trip It's Been-Grateful Dead (Warner Brothers Records, October 1977)
It is often difficult for regular rock fans to grasp the frustration and bitterness with which Classic Rock musicians viewed their former record companies. After all, the company would have signed the band, financed their rise, and made them rich--why all the vitriol? "Best Of" albums bring those old relationships into focus. The Grateful Dead had decided to go independent in Fall of 1972, but had to release the triple-lp Europe 72 and Bear's Choice to exit the deal. They had released Wake Of The Flood in November of 1973 on their own Grateful Dead Records label. The album had done alright, but not great. But the Grateful Dead were working on another album, and they were prepared to tour hard throughout the summer to support it.

Yet come February of 1974, what Grateful Dead album was easiest get? Skeletons From The Closet, because the Warners distribution arm made sure that it was in every department store music section in the country. When the Dead started playing big places in May, expanding their audience in Reno and Montana and Santa Barbara, what album were the newbies most likely to buy? Even when Mars Hotel was released in late June, Warners distribution far outpaced the new, independent Grateful Dead operation. All those great shows in Miami, Springfield and New Haven were selling Skeletons, not Mars Hotel. The Dead's touring was supporting Warner Brothers Records more than Grateful Dead Records.

Even when the Dead signed with Arista Records at the end of 1976, they found themselves up against Warner Brothers again. The Grateful Dead had released Terrapin Station in July of 1977, and toured heavily throughout the year. Once again, Terrapin was popular, but not a huge success. The Dead missed out on Summer touring because of Mickey Hart's auto accident, but they had numerous dates lined up for October and November 1977. And Warner Brothers? They just released another Best Of The Grateful Dead album.

What A Long Strange Trip It's Been was a double-lp released by Warners in October of 1977. This time, nobody from the Grateful Dead seems to have been involved.  The album mostly featured live tracks. There was also a genuine rarity, a re-release of the "Dark Star"/"Born Cross-Eyed" single from 1968. Warners were shrewd, too, about who might be buying the album. Deadheads like me only had to decide if we wanted to buy the album for the rare single, since we had all the albums. The most likely buyers probably already had Skeletons, so save "Truckin" from American Beauty, there were no repeats from Skeletons, making it a nice purchase from that point of view.

WALSTIB didn't have Skeletons numbers, but it still was a fair success. By 2001 it had gone Platinum. It may seem that the Dead should have been happy with the royalties they were going to get from the albums, and they surely were, but it was a decidedly mixed blessing. Record companies were notoriously slow and stingy about remanding any money to acts who had left the label, generally forcing them to sue the company. This was one reason that labels were slow to "certify" Gold and Platinum Best Of albums, because they didn't want to even acknowledge the sales. WALSTIB was certified Gold and Platinum on the same day in 2001, a clear sign that Warners had not been doing the Dead any favors.

So after 1973, the Dead found themselves in competition with their own label. Since Warners distribution was the best in the industry, they could out-do Arista as well as Grateful Dead Records, and it would have been something that rankled. As if that wasn't enough, the Dead, like any group, wanted to name albums or projects after phrases associated with the band name, and Warner Brothers had used two of the best choices. 

Biograph, the 5-lp set of classic and unreleased Bob Dylan music released in 1985. It established the Boxed Set as a viable commercial proposition
Biograph, The CD Revolution and the Afterlife of Skeletons
The late 20th century record industry kept finding new ways to make money, but the artists who made that music were not always included. For a variety of reasons, the Grateful Dead managed to evade some of the record industry trends at the end of the century. Bob Dylan's Biograph, a five-lp set, was released in 1986, and it ushered in the era of the boxed set. The Grateful Dead were rare amongst major 60s bands in not releasing a multi-album set in the early 90s with classic tracks, rarities and live cuts (they released So Many Roads after Garcia died). It was Warners who would have benefited, and the Dead weren't particularly interested.

Similarly, the record industry made a lot of money re-selling everyone their own record collection on compact disc. The Dead were in no hurry to assist Warners in this enterprise, although once again they did so after Garcia's death. It seems to me that the beginning of Two From The Vault and Dick's Picks, which featured music from the Warner Brothers period, indicated a rapprochement between Warners and the Dead. Ultimately, after many mergers, Rhino Records, owned by Warner Music, a successor to Warner Brothers Records, took over the Grateful Dead catalog, and everyone seems to have benefited.

Incredibly, the audience for Grateful Dead music has continued to expand into the 21st century. Downloads, archival cds and newly performed and recorded music have continued to generate millions of dollars in sales every year. Yet the audio cd of Skeletons (released 1990) still has non-zero sales on Amazon, so it has continued to sell over the years, at least to some degree. The sheer volume of released Grateful Dead music, not to mention the extraordinary availability of "unreleased" Dead music, appears to still leave an opening for the new or casual fan to dip their toes in the water, and Skeletons From The Closet yet remains poised to provide that entry point, even if few Deadheads recall that the best-selling Grateful Dead album even exists.

Initial release : February 1974
Warner Bros. W-2764

Single LP compilation of tracks from the Grateful Dead Warner Brothers albums plus one tack from Bob Weir's album Ace.

  • The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion) (Garcia/Lesh/Weir/Kreutzmann/McKernan)
  • Truckin' (Garcia/Lesh/Weir/Hunter)
  • Rosemary (Garcia/Hunter)
  • Sugar Magnolia (Weir/Hunter)
  • St. Stephen (Garcia/Lesh/Hunter)
  • Uncle John's Band (Garcia/Hunter)
  • Casey Jones (Garcia/Hunter)
  • Mexicali Blues (Weir/Barlow)
  • Turn On Your Love Light (Malone / Scott)
  • One More Saturday Night (Weir)
  • Friend Of The Devil (Garcia/Dawson/Hunter)
Credits for the compilation;

  • Editing - Betty Cantor, Bill Wolf
  • Artwork - John Van Hamersveld
  • Art Direction - Bob Seidman
March 14, 1980
December 15, 1986
Double Platinum[4]
June 27, 1994
Triple Platinum[4]
January 31, 1995

Initial release : 1970
Warner Brothers PRO 358

A Warner Brothers/Reprise double LP loss leader sampler that includes an edited version of Turn On Your Lovelight from Live/Dead. 

Tracks / Musicians 
Side 1
Nice Folks - The Fifth Avenue Band
Red-Eye Express - John Sebastian
This Whole World - The Beach Boys
New Orleans Hopscotch Blues - Geoff & Maria Muldaur
Coming in to Los Angeles - Arlo Guthrie
I Was the Rebel, She Was the Cause - Eric Andersen
Jubilee - Norman Greenbaum
Ivy - Savage Grace

Side 2
Caravan - Van Morrison
Oh Well (Parts 1 & 2) - Fleetwood Mac
Sally Go Round the Roses - The Pentangle
Nothing Is Easy - Jethro Tull
Flying - Small Faces
No Mule's Fool - Family
When I Turn Out the Living Room Light - The Kinks

Side 3
I'm on My Way Home Again - The Everly Brothers
Happy Time - Tim Buckley
Big Yellow Taxi - Joni Mitchell
The Loner - Neil Young
Approaching Lavender - Gordon Lightfoot
Mama Told Me Not to Come - Randy Newman
Fire and Rain - James Taylor
Sit Down Old Friend - Dion

Side 4
The Illiad - Ed Sanders
Kansas and the GTO's; The Captain's Fat Theresa Shoes; The Original GTO's - The GTO's
Ella Guru - Captain Beefheart
WPLJ - Mothers Of Invention
The Taster and The Story of the Taster - Wild Man Fischer
Footnote - Pearls Before Swine
Turn On Your Love Light - Grateful Dead

Initial release : October 1977
Warner Bros. 2W-3091

A double LP compilation of music from the Grateful Dead recordings on the Warner Brothers label. 

  • LP 1 - side 1
  • New, New Minglewood Blues (McGannahan Skjellyfetti)
  • Cosmic Charlie (Garcia/Hunter)
  • Truckin' (Garcia/Lesh/Weir/Hunter)
  • Black Peter (Garcia/Hunter)
  • Born Cross-Eyed (The Grateful Dead)
  • LP 1 - side 2
  • Ripple (Hunter/Garcia)
  • Doin' That Rag (Garcia/Hunter)
  • Dark Star (Garcia/Hunter)
  • High Time (Garcia/Hunter)
  • New Speedway Boogie (Garcia/Hunter)
  • LP 2 - side 1
  • St. Stephen (Garcia/Lesh/Hunter)
  • Jack Straw (Weir/Hunter)
  • Me and My Uncle (Phillips)
  • Tennessee Jed (Garcia/Hunter)
  • LP 2 - side 2
  • Cumberland Blues (Garcia/Lesh/Hunter)
  • Playing In The Band (Weir/Hart/Hunter)
  • Brown-Eyed Woman (Garcia/Hunter)
  • Ramble On Rose (Garcia/Hunter)

Credits For the compilation;
  • Executive Producer - Paul L. Wexler

  • Art supervision - Paul L. Wexler
  • Art - Rick Griffin
  • Photography - Arthur Stern
  • Additional photo - Ed Perlstein
  • Tape assembly supervision - Paul L. Wexler
  • Tape assembly - Loyd Clifft
  • Engineering - Bob and Betty
  • Mix down - Bob and Betty
  • Honorable mention - Hal Kant, The Phantom Finger Cult and Taper Bob

Date :Gold, Platinum August 24, 2001