Friday, August 14, 2015

Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia Landmark Guide: Oakland

The Oakland Auditorium in 1917, two years after it was built
The Grateful Dead are correctly known as the archetypal San Francisco band. Their roots were in Palo Alto, even if nearby Menlo Park had just as much of a claim to them. As the Dead turned into a national act, a good claim could be made for Manhattan having made them giant, with some help from Jersey City and Brooklyn. As they toured the country year after year, certain venues became legendary: Boston Garden, Red Rocks or whatever your favorite stop might have been.

However, in the annals of Grateful Dead history, Oakland gets no love. This is unfair, since some of the most critical venues in the Grateful Dead's regular schedule were in Oakland. On top of that, the city's proximity to Marin and San Francisco meant that all sorts of oddball one-off events took place there as well. This post will try and raise the city's profile in Dead history by looking at the locations and histories of some places in Oakland that played a part in the band's story.

The Oakland Auditorium from the North and East, with Lake Merritt in the foreground, exact date of the picture unknown
Oakland Auditorium Arena, 10 Tenth Street (at Oak), Oakland, CA 94607
later known as: Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center
First Grateful Dead show: June 28, 1967
Last Grateful Dead show: February 7, 1989 (58 shows)
Also: Jerry Garcia Band (first Oct 31 '86, last Nov 11 '94-5 shows)

The history of the Grateful Dead in Oakland has to begin with the Oakland Auditorium, later known as the Henry J. Kaiser Auditorium. The auditorium was built in 1915, and it was host to many performers over the years, including Elvis Presley and James Brown. The Dead even played there as far back as 1967 and 1971. However, starting in 1979, after Winterland had closed, the old Auditorium became the Grateful Dead's home court. In the early 80s, when the Dead seemed like dinosaurs and they were not yet iconic, seeing shows at 10th and Oak was like a gathering of the tribe, all the more important when we had no other way to meet. The New Year's runs were also a prime opportunity to get a taste of the Dead on the West Coast, so the impact of the Auditorium went far beyond the Bay Area.

The Dead simply sized out of the Kaiser in 1989, after "Touch Of Gray" made shows there unmanageable. The little vending scene on the lawn outside the arena, officially sanctioned by BGP, had simply gotten too large, and the demand for tickets was too great. By the time of the last Dead show at Kaiser, the Dead were already playing bigger places. Yet the Kaiser stands as the symbol of the Brent era, when the Dead were a self-sustaining artifact, defying logic and good sense.

After the Dead's departure, there wasn't really a good role for the building. A new, more efficient convention center was built downtown, and the Kaiser was in that place where it was always too big or too small, but never just right. After losing money for years, the building was finally closed by the Oakland. It is still standing, but no one can decide what to do with it. In June 2015, the Golden State Warriors victory parade ended at the Kaiser, and the little lawn outside the Auditorium was filled with far more people (and vendors) than were ever in Shakedown Street. The building awaits a miracle ticket for its redemption.

In 2015, the Golden State Warriors won the NBA title for the first time since Blues For Allah, and a huge crowd gathered outside the old Auditorium  (at left) for one last hurrah. By all reports, vending was rampant.

Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena, 7000 Coliseum Way, Oakland, CA 94621
replaced by: Oracle Arena (re-opened 1997)
First Grateful Dead show: February 17, 1979
Last Grateful Dead show: February 26, 1995 (66 shows)
Also: Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir, Dec 4 '88 (Bridge Concert), Jerry Garcia Band Oct 31 '92

Ask a veteran Deadhead, perhaps yourself: what building did the Grateful Dead play the most? Go ahead, look it up on Deadlists. The Fillmore East (43 shows)? The original Fillmore Auditorium (51)? Madison Square Garden (52)? The Philadelphia Spectrum (53)? Winterland (60)? 1545 Market Street, the location of both the Carousel Ballroom (16) and Fillmore West (46--total=62)?

What building did the Grateful Dead play most often? The answer turns out to be the mostly unloved Oakland Coliseum Arena, which the Grateful Dead played 66 times between 1979 and 1995. The Coliseum complex, with the indoor arena and the outdoor stadium, was built in 1966 to house the Oakland Raiders and tempt the (at the time) San Francisco Warriors and Kansas City Athletics. It did just that. No one really loved the Coliseum, but it had and has a spectacularly central location, right off Highway 880. It had its own BART stop, it was near the Airport, you could get there easily from every county, but it was just sort of--there.

As a result, the 15,000+-capacity Coliseum Arena was the prime spot for top rock acts in the Bay Area from the late 60s through the 90s. Initially, the Arena was too big for rock acts, but when bands like Cream, Blind Faith and the Rolling Stones had their most famous tours, the Coliseum was not only the biggest venue, but also the best located. Thus the roster of bands that have played the Coliseum Arena is like a Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction list. Even when Shoreline Amphitheatre came along in 1986 and superseded the Coliseum as the flagship Bay Area venue, the Coliseum still handled all the Fall and Winter shows, so everybody still played the venue regularly.

Most long-tenured Deadheads, myself included, have seen some Dead shows at the Arena. Some of them were pretty good, too. But they don't have the sense of place that the Oakland Auditorium had. Maybe it was the size, or the nondescript architecture of the building. Maybe it was just because I went to the Coliseum so many times, and have so many great memories, that the Dead are just one of many (Back in the early 80s, I saw 6'4 Adrian Dantley of the Utah Jazz drop 46 on the Warriors one night, mostly from the paint, and it was a thing to behold. Come to think of it, I saw Swen Nater do the same--don't get me started on Joe Barry Carroll's defense. Which just shows you that I don't even think of the Dead first at the Coliseum). There were actually a number of social connections between the Grateful Dead and the popular but usually underperforming Golden State Warriors. The most famous of these was the Dead's contributions to the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic Team (captured in the movie The Other Dream Team).

After the 1996-97 NBA season, the Coliseum Arena was fully remodeled into a much larger configuration, and now can seat just over 20,000 for basketball. It is currently known as the Oracle Arena, and remains the home of the unexpectedly mighty Golden State Warriors.

Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Stadium, 7000 Coliseum Way, Oakland, CA 94621
now: Coliseum
First Grateful Dead show: June 8, 1974
Last Grateful Dead show: May 27, 1989 (5 shows)
Also: Bob Weir and Kingfish (June 29, 1975, opening for Doobie Bros/Eagles), and Nelson Mandela (June 30 '90, Mickey Hart part of drum procession)

The Oakland Coliseum Stadium shares a parking lot with the indoor basketball arena. It was part of the thrust for "multi-use" stadiums that were popular in the 1970s. As such, it housed both the Raiders (since 1966) and the A's (since 1968). Amazingly, it still does. What was once a gleaming new cement palace that was superior to cold Candlestick across the bay is now a rundown block that pales before PacBell Park or Levi's Stadium. The strange departure and return of the Raiders caused new centerfield bleachers (known colloquially as "Mt Davis") to be constructed, ruining the pleasant view of the Oakland hills. Nonetheless, the stadium perseveres, even if its tenants perpetually threaten to move.

The Coliseum Stadium was the primary spot for most of the huge outdoor rock shows in the Bay Area in the 20th century, save for the Beatles appearance at Candlestick (August 29 1966), which preceded the stadium. The few subsequent Candlestick rock concerts were only held there, grudgingly, because the A's or Raiders had prior bookings at the Coliseum,

The Dead played five shows at the Stadium, all pretty legendary. They headlined over The Beach Boys on June 8, 1974, they were double-billed with The Who on October 9-10, 1976, they played with Bob Dylan on July 24, 1987 and they headlined over John Fogerty (who was backed by Jerry and Bob, among others) on May 27, 1989. It's kind of like the A's: the Coliseum itself isn't that memorable, but what happened there remains etched in your mind long after you have departed.

Oakland Exposition Center, 9th and Fallon Streets, Oakland, CA 94607
I am pursuing some very tenuous leads to a Grateful Dead performance in early 1967 at the Oakland Exposition Center. The Exposition Center was at 9th and Fallon, and was an all-purpose civic auditorium, used for trade shows, roller derbies, midget car races and all sorts of other things. It was torn down for the California Museum, which opened in 1969. Since I can't confirm the show yet, I am only provisionally including this reference for completism, and of course hoping someone knows something.
This photo from the Dunsmuir House shows a costume event (set in the '20s), but that's not why its misleading. Although the estate looks beautiful here, the photo does not do it justice and the estate grounds are even more engaging.
Dunsmuir House And Gardens2960 Peralta Oaks Court, Oakland, CA 94605
August 18, 1985: Jerry Garcia and John Kahn/Ron Price

Dunsmuir House was built in 1878 by Alexander Dunsmuir. Later it was purchasedby Isaias Hellmann (1842-1920), one of the principal financial architects of Los Angeles, and from 1906 onwards, also the chairman of Wells Fargo Bank. Hellman's great-grandson was Warren Hellman, who among many other things was the founder of the wonderful Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in San Francisco. Isaias Hellman owned Dunsmuir House until his death in 1920, and afterwards the grounds were ultimately passed to the city of Oakland. Nestled in the Oakland foothills, calling Dunsmuir "beautiful" does the estate a disservice.

The City of Oakland has never been able to figure out what to do with the estate, other than rent it out for the occasional wedding. BGP briefly tried putting on concerts there. Jerry Garcia and John Kahn played a show on August 18, 1985, and they didn't play that well, but honestly, it didn't matter. The setting was so spectacular and the weather so perfect that Jerry and John were just sort of present. I'm sure the tape is lousy--so what, you should have been there. If you get invited to a wedding at the estate, go to it even if you don't like the bride and groom.

The Omni, 4799 Shattuck Avenue, Oakland, CA
Ligure Hall was built in the 1930s at 48th St and Shattuck Avenue as an Italian-American social club. However, the Grove-Shafter Freeway changed the neighborhood, and many of the club members moved away. The hall was used for a few rock shows in the 1960s, but it never caught on. In 1985, the Hall was acquired by John Nady, who had made a fortune with wireless guitar pickups. He opened a rock nightclub called The Omni. The Omni featured many metal bands, as well as groups on their way down.

Nonetheless, on December 19, 1986 Go Ahead played The Omni. Go Ahead was a spin-off band that included Brent Mydland and Bill Kreutzmann (along with Alex Ligterwood, Jerry Cortez and David Margen). They had toured around a fair amount in 1986 when it wasn't clear at all that Garcia would return to action. By December, the Dead had already performed, but Go Ahead played their Omni date anyway. According to Joel Selvin, Garcia even showed up to hang out, although he did not play. A commenter on another post said
Jerry did show up at the Go Ahead concert with a lady friend from the Hog Farm and took a table right on the dancefloor -- it was amazing to come back to the ballroom from the bar before the show and find him sitting there. He was plainly in good spirits and was pleasant to people who went up and said hi but people gave him plenty of space -- a very hip crowd. And a great show. 
On Halloween, 1987, The Tubes played The Omni. The once-mighty Tubes were very much on the downslide, but Vince Welnick was still the keyboard player at the time. John Nady ended up purchasing The Stone around 1988, but The Stone closed in 1990 or so, and The Omni shut down in 1992. The building is now a private residence, only used for occasional public events.

Scottish Rites Temple, 1547 Lakeside Drive, Oakland, CA, 94612
July 3, 1991: AIDS Conference; Bob Weir

The Freemasons had established an organization in Oakland in 1883. They had had a number of buildings for their headquarters, but the current one was started in 1925 and finished in 1927. It is on the Northern side of Lake Merritt, near Grand Avenue, at 1547 Lakeside. Masonic Temples were a common feature of American cities in the early 20th century, and indeed many legendary psychedelic ballrooms were re-purposed Scottish Rites Temples, including the Avalon. The Oakland temple (the Masons are not a religion, but they call their meeting halls "temples") is still local headquarters for the Masons, but the building is available for rent as well.

On July 3, 1991, there was an Oakland AIDs conference, back when that was still a meaningful political act, as opposed to simply a medical colloquium. Bob Weir appeared at the conference, I believe performing a few songs solo as part of some opening or closing ceremony.

Owsley's House, 6024 Ascot Drive, Oakland, CA, 94611
The story and location of this house used to be a bit of a secret, but I guess now that it is part of the real estate pitch, it's fair to talk about it. Oakland first became a great city in 1869, when for geographical reasons it became the terminus of the first Transcontinental Railway. Trains all arrived in Oakland because they could not really arrive in San Francisco, so people and goods in great number went to Oakland before they crossed the bay, and the city thrived accordingly. The beautiful Oakland hills, relatively far from downtown, were for the wealthy estates of the Bay Area's rich.

The second major boost to Oakland came after the 1906 earthquake, when many San Francisco residents were evacuated to Oakland to avoid the raging fires. Many of them stayed, and so Oakland boomed again after 1906, along with San Francisco. Once the automobile was generally available, the Oakland hills became accessible to more than the super-wealthy. Of course, those who lived in the Oakland hills were still pretty well off, in that they had large properties with spectacular views that were only accessible by then-exotic automobiles, but the civilization of the Oakland hills was underway.

The arrival of the Bay Bridge changed the economic underpinning of Oakland, although that was muted somewhat by the explosion of shipbuilding during World War 2 (which itself was excellent for Bay Area music, by the way). The mid 1950s also saw the relative demise of rail transportation, in favor of trucks (and later jet planes), so that by the 1960s Oakland was somewhat fading in importance. As a result, houses in the Oakland hills were often available at surprisingly reasonable prices, if you didn't mind the windy roads and the distance from the freeway (I-580 had not yet been built).

In her recent book Owsley And Me: My LSD Family, Rhoney Gissen describes the house at 6024 Ascot Drive in some detail. Originally it was rented by Ali Akbar Khan school of music. Rhoney writes
Indian music gave me clarity, so I drove to the Ali Akbar Khan School Of Music, situated in a beautiful Spanish-style multilevel house with arts-and-crafts detailing in the secluded hills of Oakland, southeast of Berkeley. While I was listening to a morning raga played by Khansahib with Vince Delgado on tabla, it occurred to me that this place would be perfect for Bear. With all the rooms and levels, he could live here with any member of the Grateful Dead family. Ramrod had already agreed to live with Bear when he moved [p166]
Since the School was moving at month's end, Owsley was intrigued enough to visit:
We walked around the house and there was a swimming pool and a separate entrance in the back. Stately trees reached beyond the third floor. We went back inside which was atop a long stairway from the front door.
"Look, Bear, I can stand at the top of the stair and see who's coming."
"Yes, but you can't see the front door from any of the windows." [p.167]
Bear eventually agrees, and Rhoney gets Bear to let Ali Akhbar Khan and his students to open for the Grateful Dead in Berkeley (at the Berkeley Community Theater on September 20, 1968) in return for letting Owsley take over the lease.
At the end of the Summer of 1968, when the Indian musicians moved out of the house in the Oakland hills, Bear moved in. Betty and Bob Matthews took the downstairs apartment, and Ramrod moved into the bedroom next to Bear's. Weir camped out in the living room. [p168]
It is part of the oddness of Owsley that when the Dead left the Haight to move to Marin, he moved to the secluded Oakland hills. In order to get to either the Dead's Novato warehouse or any of the San Francisco venues, Owsley had to take a long drive in his convertible sportscar (I believe a Porsche 356), but that was part of his mystery. According to an unreliable anonymous memoir I read, Owsley had business interests at a rug shop on Alcatraz Avenue in Berkeley, and perhaps he wanted to be nearby.

Owsley lived in the Ascot Drive house until his incarceration in July of 1970. The Ali Akbar Khan School of Music moved to San Rafael, and seems to be still going strong. The house at 6024 Ascot Drive, once the Acid King's secret hideaway, is now just another nice house with a lovely view and a colorful past.

The Arbor Villa Palm Trees on 9th Avenue between E. 24th and E. 28th Street are sort of near Lake Merritt, but are only included here because I wanted to use a picture of them. They have nothing to do with the Grateful Dead. They were planted in 1890, and originally lined the Eastern edge of Francis "Borax" Smith's estate.
Grateful Dead Historical Research Quadrangle
Aside from actual places where the Grateful Dead and its members have performed, like any phenomenon, there are odd little loci where certain aspects of Grateful Dead culture have thrived. One of those is Brooklyn, New York, where the Dead rarely played but was nonetheless critical to the rise of taping culture, but that is a topic for another book that someone else will be writing. However, from the 1980s onwards there has been some serious research into the nature and history of The Grateful Dead, and much of that research forms an approximate square around Lake Merritt.

Lake Merritt is a large tidal lagoon in the center of the city of Oakland. It was originally surrounded by wetlands, but by the late 19th century the inflow and outflow of water was carefully managed. Nonetheless, one of the many unique things about Oakland is that it has a huge (the circumference is 3.4 miles) wildlife refuge right next to downtown. The Oakland Auditorium anchors the Southwestern edge of the lake, and that alone would make it memorable in Dead history. However, the other three sides of the quadtangle have a place as well.

In the 1980s, the magazine Golden Road, produced by Blair Jackson and Regan McMahon, set the standard for Grateful Dead scholarship. It was the first publication that did serious, accurate journalism on the Dead while still having an enthusiasts' perspective, and it remains a touchstone for anyone interested in the band at the time and today. The Golden Road was produced on the Eastern edge of Lake Merritt, pretty near Leaning Tower Of Pizza.

Later in the 1980s, and into the 90s, before the Internet became a thing, David Gans' Deadhead Hour became syndicated nationwide. Thus any aspiring Dead fan could get cool tapes, and not need to meet a guy whose brother knew a guy who knew a dude who bought some reel-to-reels at a flea market (which is sort of how I got Providence Sep 15 '73, but that's a digression). Anyone with an FM radio and a patch cord could get a pretty cool Dead tape every week, and so the Grateful Dead slowly infiltrated the land, one suburban bedroom at a time. Deadhead Hour World Headquarters was (and remains) at the Northeastern corner of Lake Merritt.

Lost Live Dead remained just an idea for the 20th century, although the occasional whiff could be found in Golden Road or Deadbase VII. Nonetheless, a significant part of the research for the blog was done near the Northern part of Lake Merritt, on both sides of Highway 580. Now the Kaiser is closed, Golden Road is a memory, the Oakland Coliseum has long since been replaced, and Lost Live Dead is produced in virtual space, far to the East of Grand Avenue.

Oakland perseveres, however, its fortune made by being the terminus of the first Transcontinental railroad, and then narrowed by the Bay Bridge. Yet the city's importance in American history and Grateful Dead history remains undiminished by time. The Golden State Warriors bought a title back to Oakland in 2015, 40 years after their last one, and 26 years after any other Oakland team, so everything remains possible.

The Henry J. Kaiser Convention center ca. 2013, fenced off and unused, hoping for a Miracle Ticket [from Oakland Scene]

Friday, July 10, 2015

Grateful Dead Performance List January-June 1967

The Gathering Of The Tribes, The Human Be-In, at the Polo Grounds in Golden Gate Park on January 14, 1967
I have been working on this list for my own purposes, so I thought I would post it. Since there is no longer a definitive list of Grateful Dead shows that is easily accessible online, I have decided to post my own list covering brief periods of time. I will include links to where I have information on some dates that are not widely known, but I will be minimizing discussion of individual performances. In Tour Itinerary posts I have talked about even shorter periods of time, with the intent of creating a narrative that describes the Grateful Dead's activity during that window. This post is more of a simple list, however, to use as an anchor for research. My plan is to keep this list up to date on an ongoing basis. Please suggest any additions, corrections or reservations in the Comments.

January 1, 1967 The Panhandle, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Big Brother And The Holding Company New Year's Day Wail [free concert]
Since the Dead had played a New Year's Eve all-nighter at the Fillmore, and Big Brother had done the same at the Avalon, it's unlikely either band had any sleep. Technically, the Panhandle is not part of Golden Gate Park, but only San Francisco residents care about that.

January 6, 1967 Freeborn Hall, UC Davis, Davis, CA: Grateful Dead/Big Mama Thornton
The Grateful Dead had debuted in the Sacramento area just the week before (December 28, 1966) [update: JGMF on the case]

Oakland Tribune jazz critic mentioned the Grateful Dead's appearance as the opening act for the Mamas And The Papas at the Berkeley Community Theater on Friday, January 13, 1967
January 13, 1967 Berkeley Community Theater, Berkeley, CA: The Mamas And The Papas/Grateful Dead/Canadian Fuzz (early show)
The hugely popular Mamas And Papas were playing two sold-out shows in Berkeley for Bill Graham Presents, but opening act Jose Feliciano was stuck on a plane for the early show. The Dead filled in for him, and then rushed over to the Fillmore for their own show. Oakland Tribune jazz critic Russ Wilson reviewed the early show, and gave a mixed but positive review for The Mamas And The Papas. He dismissed the Dead in one sentence:
The program was opened with a 30-minute set by The Grateful Dead, a Westbay rock quintet that is memorable because two of its musicians (male) have hair that reaches to their shoulders.

January 13-14-15, 1967 Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/The Doors/Junior Wells/Immediate Family
The Doors may have missed a set on one of these nights. The Immediate Family, featuring guitarist Tim Barnes, probably didn't play Sunday (January 15).

January 14, 1967 Polo Grounds, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA: Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service/Charlatans/The New Age/others Human Be-In [free concert]

January 20, 1967 Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, Santa Monica, CA: Timothy Leary/Grateful Dead

January 22, 1967 uncertain venue, Southern California: Grateful Dead
Another researcher has a line on this. I will fill in the blanks when he can confirm them. There are also reported sightings of the Dead playing at the afternoon's Griffith Park Love-In, along with the Airplane.

January 27-28, 1967 Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service

January 29, 1967 Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Big Brother And The Holding Company/Moby Grape S.F. Krishna Temple Benefit
The Grateful Dead spent the next week at RCA Studios recording their first album. They were booked to play a benefit at the Fillmore on Sunday, February 5, but apparently did not return from Los Angeles in time.

The Sopwith Camel were replaced at the last minute by The Gratful Dead for their show at the Santa Venetia Armory, in the unincorporated outskirts of San Rafael, on Friday February 10 1967.
February 10, 1967 Santa Venetia Armory, Santa Venetia, CA: Grateful Dead/Blue House Basement/Baltimore Steam Packet.
Santa Venetia was an unincorporated suburb of San Rafeal. The Dead substituted for the Sopwith Camel.

February 12, 1967 Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA Grateful Dead/Moby Grape/Sly And The Family Stone/Salvation Army Banned/Notes From The Underground

February 24-25-26, 1967, Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA Grateful Dead/Otis Rush/Canned Heat

March 3, 1967 Winterland, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Love/Moby Grape/Loading Zone/Blue Crumb Truck Factory
These shows were promoted by a group called The Love Conspiracy Commune. According to Charles Perry, in his 1984 book Haight-Ashbury: A History, the Love Conspiracy was backed by pot dealers from Chapel Hill, NC.

March 5, 1967 Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA: Moby Grape/Big Brother And The Holding Company/Country Joe And The Fish/The Sparrow/Grateful Dead
This was a benefit for the Straight Theater, so it could be converted from a movie theater to a concert hall. Only in 1967 San Francisco would one business hold a benefit for a future competitor.

A San Francisco Chronicle ad (from March 11, 1967) for the Grateful Dead's weeklong engagement at the long-forgotten San Francisco outpost of the Whisky-A-Go-Go, at 568 Sacramento Street downtown.
March 10-15, 1967 Whisky A-Go-Go, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead
I have changed my mind various times about this. However, I am now certain that the Grateful Dead played this week at the little-remembered San Francisco outpost of the famed Los Angeles nightspot. An eyewitness reports that the shows were thinly attended, and that there were topless dancers on stage. The Love Conspiracy Commune had taken over booking for the SF Whisky from about February 1967 onwards, and the club went out of business by April. Whisky ownership was always suspected of nefarious connections, so the mystery associated with the Love Conspiracy fits in nicely.

March 17-18-19, 1967 Winterland, San Francisco, CA: Chuck Berry/Grateful Dead/Johnny Talbot And De Thangs (March 19 show at Fillmore)
Johnny Talbot and De Thangs, an R&B band from Oakland also backed Chuck Berry for his sets.

March 20, 1967 Fugazi Hall, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead
The Dead had an album release party at the tiny Fugazi Hall. The Fugazi housed the show Beach Blanket Babylon for many years.

One night, week of March 17-26, Teenage Fair, Oakland Exposition Center, Oakland, CA
This is something I am working on. I realize the dates would conflict with numerous other dates during the week, but for various reasons that isn't a problem. If the Dead did play the Teenage Fair, they would not have been advertised, per their contracts with Bill Graham and Chet Helms. I have more to say, but this is just here as a teaser (bonus points if you know about the Oakland Exposition Center). What was a Teenage Fair? All will be revealed, sort of, eventually.

March 24-25, 1967 Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Johnny Hammond And His Screaming Nighthawks/Robert Baker

It's not completely impossible that on Sunday (March 26), the Grateful Dead flew to Los Angeles for the Griffith Park Love-In, and flew back to the Avalon for their gig. Tickets on Pacific Southwest Airlines were about $20, not much even then. Various eyewitnesses place the Dead at Griffiths Park.

March 26, 1967 Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service
Eric Burdon and The Animals dropped in and performed a few numbers on the Grateful Dead's equipment.
The Grateful Dead, The Charles Lloyd Quartet and The Mystery Trend played a week at the Rock Garden at 4742 Mission Street, in the Excelsior District in San Francisco, from March 28-April 2, 1967
March 28-April 2, 1967 The Rock Garden, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Charles Lloyd/Mystery Trend
The Rock Garden was out in the Excelsior District, where Jerry Garcia had grown up. His mother, who still lived nearby, came to one of these shows. Charles Lloyd apparently jammed with the Dead during some of the sets. Lloyd's crack band probably included Keith Jarrett, Ron McClure and Jack DeJohnette. Per Russ Wilson's interview in the March 26, 1967 Oakland Tribune, Lloyd's band also played Sunday, March 26, without the Dead, but did not play Thursday, March 30, when they played Berkeley Community Theater. Wilson also had the group The Virginians opening, rather than The Mystery Trend, and his information was later than the poster.

April 9, 1967 Panhandle, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA [free concert]
Charles Perry reported that the Dead played for free this afternoon.

The Panhandle is a strip of grass between Oak and Fell Streets in San Francisco, bordered by Stanyan and Baker (and bisected by Masonic). Although it abuts the Western border of Golden Gate Park, San Franciscans are very firm about the fact that it is not Golden Gate Park proper. The Dead played their first free concert on this tiny strip on October 6, 1966, to mark the fact that LSD was now illegal in the State of California. The October 6 concert was a seminal event for too many reasons to discuss here, not all of them related to the Grateful Dead.

Since the Panhandle was a two-block walk from the Dead's headquarters at 710 Ashbury, free concerts in the Panhandle have been mythologized all out of proportion. I am largely alone in holding the belief that there were actually very few Grateful Dead concerts in the Panhandle and we know about almost all of them. This too is another topic, but I will say that most assertions for regular Grateful Dead concerts at the Panhandle are simply wishful thinking, supported only by the vaguest claims that disintegrate under scrutiny.

April 9, 1967 Longshoreman's Hall, San Francisco, CA: Quicksilver Messenger Service/Country Joe And The Fish/Big Brother and The Holding Company/Sopwith Camel Week Of The Angry Arts
This event was a sort of kickoff to a week of events protesting the Vietnam War. Note that the best known band on the bill outside of the Bay Area would have been Sopwith Camel, who had scored a hit with "Hello Hello." The Dead were not on the poster, but Ralph Gleason said they were scheduled to perform. I don't take that as a guarantee, but this list is about completeness [update: JGMF confirms, with actual video from the performance. Is technology awesome, or what?]

April 11, 1967 [entrance], San Quentin Prison, San Quentin, CA
Members of the Grateful Dead and Country Joe and The Fish played on a flatbed truck outside of San Quentin prison.

April 12, 1967 Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA: Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service/Moby Grape/Andrew Staples/Loading Zone Mime Troupe Benefit
This was a Wednesday night show

April 14-17, 1967 Banana Grove, Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles, CA
The Kaleidoscope was a venture by Canned Heat's managers (Skip Taylor and John Hartmann) to open a Fillmore-style venue in Los Angeles. This original weekend was supposed to be at a building on 1228 Vine Street, but a last second injunction stopped the show. For the weekend the show was moved to the Embassy Ballroom in the Ambassador Hotel, at 3400 Wilshire, which also housed the legendary Coconut Grove Ballroom.The ballroom was nicknamed "The Banana Grove" for the shows The hotel briefly considered making a regular thing out of such shows, but ultimately demurred. The Monday night event (April 17) appears to have been a sort of LA event for the release of the first Dead album, and that accounts for the hotel picking up the balance of the shows.

April 28, 1967, Stockton Ballroom, Stockton, CA
There has been some ambiguity about these shows because of an issue with possibly fabricated posters, but I found plenty of evidence that the show occurred (including a quote from Garcia). The event was sponsored by the Student Association of the University Of The Pacific, which was based in Stockton.

April 29, 1967 Earl Warren Showgrounds, Santa Barbara, CA: Grateful Dead/The Doors/UFO/Captain Speed

April 30, 1967 The Cheetah, Santa Monica, CA: Grateful Dead/Yellow Balloon/New Generation [two shows]

May 1, 8, 15, 22, 1967 Rendezvous Inn, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/The Wildflower
In May of 1967, The Dead, largely holidaying and rehearsing at the Russian River, had a regular Monday night gig at The Rendezvous Inn. The Rendezvous was a gay bar on Sutter Street, just above Powell, near Union Square. I don't know for certain the exact days, but McNally says they began "a brief series of Monday nights" (p.193) and the dates listed here are the first four Mondays in May. (the band had a gig on May 29 in Napa, so I have assumed they played the first four Mondays in May). There had been gay bars in San Francisco since at least the 1950s, though they kept a much lower profile than they did subsequently. The Wildflower, an Oakland group, played at least some of the gigs, and their manager was Bill Belmont (McNally, p. 288). Belmont worked for the Dead in late 1969.

May 5-6-7, 1967 Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/The Paupers/Collage

May 12, 1967 Marigold Ballroom, Fresno, CA: Grateful Dead/The Roadrunners [two shows]
I found a review of this show, so that confirms that the date was May 12 (not May 11). The Marigold was at 1833 E. Hedges in Fresno.

May 18, 1967 Gym, Awalt High School, Mountain View, CA
Randy Groenke, a former banjo student of Jerry Garcia's, persuaded the Dead to play Awalt High School in Mountain View on a Thursday afteroon, where he was then a Senior. 

The Grateful Dead, The Real Thing and Autumn People played the Continental Ballroom (in Santa Clara, a San Jose suburb), on May 20, 1967
May 20, 1967 Continental Ballroom, Santa Clara, CA: Grateful Dead/The Real Thing/Autumn People
The Continental Ballroom was a former roller skating rink at 1600 Martin Avenue in Santa Clara, a suburb of San Jose. The Dead had played the Continental as the Warlocks in Fall 1965, back when it was known as the Continental Roller Bowl. It may be that the Continental one of the very few venues where they performed as both the Dead and the Warlocks.

May 28, 1967 Panhandle, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead
For all my reservations about Grateful Dead Panhandle shows, I found a now-departed description of the Grateful Dead playing for free in the Panhandle on May 28, 1967, and I find the date quite convincing. Peter Vincent moved to San Francisco in late May 1967 and very thoughtfully (from my perspective) kept a diary.

May 29, 1967 Napa County Fairgrounds, Napa, CA: Grateful Dead/Project Hope
Some Napa high school students (with a little help from parents) organized this show, along with bookings for Country Joe and The Fish and Big Brother. At the time, Napa was a largely agricultural community.

May 30, 1967 Winterland, San Francisco, CA: Jefferson Airplane/Big Brother and The Holding Company/Big Brother and The Holding Company/Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service/The Charlatans HALO Benefit
The Haight Ashbury Legal Organization was run out of 715 Ashbury by lawyer Brian Rohan, and mainly defended hippies busted for marijuana. This Tuesday night benefit featuring all the major San Francisco rock bands also featured a tape-delayed broadcast on KMPX-fm, which I believe is the first such event for a rock band. The Quicksilver Messenger Service and Jefferson Airplane tapes circulate. I am pretty much alone in believing that the Dead did not actually play the HALO benefit, but so far no one has yet confirmed their presence beyond seeing their name on the poster.

June 1, 1967 Tompkins Square Park, New York, NY: Grateful Dead/Group Image [free concert]
The Grateful Dead surprised their hosts at the Cafe Au Go Go by playing for free the Thrusday afternoon that they hit town. The Au Go Go rapidly found out, however, that the buzz it created was enormous.

June 1-5, 8-11, 1967 Cafe Au Go Go, New York, NY: Grateful Dead/Luke And The Apostles
The Grateful Dead began their assault on Manhattan by playing two weeks in Greenwich Village, at the relatively tiny Cafe Au Go Go on 152 Bleecker Street. Frank Zappa and The Mothers Of Invention had a residency in the same building, upstairs at the Garrick Theater. According to Rock Scully, when Zappa caught his Mothers smoking pot with the Dead, they were punished with more rehearsal.

June 3, 1967 [venue], SUNY Stony Brook, Stony Brook, NY: Grateful Dead
The band played a sort of stealth gig at SUNY Stony Brook. It couldn't really be advertised except by word-of-mouth, because of their booking at the Au Go Go, but the Dead at this point were a word-of-mouth band anyway.

June 8, 1967 Bandshell On The Mall, Central Park, New York, NY: Grateful Dead/Group Image [free concert]
The Dead expanded their horizons and played for free in midtown as well. I'm not aware of rock bands (who had released actual albums) playing for free in Central Park prior to this.

June 12, 1967 The Cheetah, New York, NY: Grateful Dead/Group Image
The Group Image were a rock band/light show/collective, and they organized this somewhat underground event at The Cheetah. The Cheetah was a popular discoteque, but not exactly undergound.

June 15, 1967 Straight Theater, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/The Wildflower [private party]
The Straight was a movie theater that the locals were trying to convert into a concert venue, but they had not yet obtained a permit. The Dead had rehearsed there in late 1966. The venue would not open for a few more weeks. However, a private party was held there to celebrate the forthcoming Monterey Pop Festival, and the Dead were the headline act. Also apparently present was Jimi Hendrix, who was still unknown, although that would change dramatically by the end of the weekend.

June 16, 1967 The Hullabaloo, Los Angeles, CA; Grateful Dead/Yellow Payges/The Power
The Hullabaloo, later the Kaleidoscope, was a "teen" club sponsored by a radio dj. The Dead probably played two sets, and Phil Lesh got his bass stolen.

June 17-18, 1967, athletic field, Monterey Peninsula College, Monterey, CA [free concert]
The Dead flew into Monterey for the Pop Festival on Saturday morning. Disliking what they considered the "commercial" atmosphere of the event, they set up shop at the college across from the fairgrounds where people were camping. Although events have been somewhat blown out of proportion, the Dead and other musicians definitely performed at the athletic field during the festival itself.

June 18, 1967 Horse Show Arena, Monterey County Fairgrounds, Monterey, CA: The Mamas And The Papas with Scott Mackenzie/Jimi Hendrix Experience/The Grateful Dead/The Who/Buffalo Springrield/The Group With No Name/Big Brother And The Holding Company/Blues Project
The Dead played a short, uneventful set at the Festival, setting in motion the ongoing theme in which they would always blow the big ones.

June 21, 1967 Polo Grounds, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service/Mad River Summer Solstice "Do-In" [free concert]
The Grateful Dead and their crew had "liberated" some of the equipment rented for the Monterey Pop Festival and played a few free concerts. This event, styled as a "Do-In" rather than a "Be-In," took place on the Summer Solstice and featured two stages at opposite ends of the Polo Grounds. I believe the Dead shared a stage with Quicksilver and Mad River, while Big Brother, The Jefferson Airplane and The Phoenix were across the way, but I may have the combinations of bands wrong.

June 28, 1967 Oakland Auditorium Arena, Oakland, CA: Young Rascals/The Grass Roots/Country Joe And The Fish/Grateful Dead/Sons Of Champlin
The Grateful Dead played the very first of a great many shows at the Oakland Auditorium Arena.

July 2, 1967 El Camino Park, Palo Alto, CA: Grateful Dead/Anonymous Artists of America/New Delhi River Band/Solid State/The Good Word Palo Alto Be-In [free concert]
For many years I thought this show was on June 24, which is why I am including it here. However, it actually occurred on Sunday, July 2. The Dead played for free on the Palo Alto/Menlo Park border, within walking distance of both Magoo's and The Tangent. I attended the show (I was 9). There are numerous photos of this event.

For a more detailed analysis, if now somewhat outdated, see my tour itinerary pages here
Grateful Dead Tour Itinerary January-April 1967
Grateful Dead Tour Itinerary May-June 1967

4/9/67 video:

Friday, May 8, 2015

Album Economics: Contemporary Live Albums From 1971 (Skull And Roses)

The front cover of Grateful Dead, a live double-lp released on Warner Brothers Records in October 1971. and colloquially known as Skull And Roses (for the iconic Kelly/Mouse cover)
The double live album Grateful Dead, released on Warner Brothers Records in October 1971, popularly known as "Skull And Roses," cemented the Dead's status as a successful rock band of the 70s. Unlike many of their peers, the Dead had made the transition from being a hip underground band of the 60s to an ongoing enterprise. The Dead's two prior studio albums, Workingman's Dead and American Beauty, both released in 1970, had established the group nationwide with the FM radio listening audience. The Skull And Roses album, however, was structured like a miniature Grateful Dead concert, and featured a mix of original and cover material, and it was a more expensive double album. Yet it was successful as soon as it was released, a sign that the Grateful Dead had escalated up to the rock establishment.

In 1971, the Grateful Dead had become more popular than ever as a concert attraction. However, the rock concert industry was still small by modern standards, and the Grateful Dead's income from touring was not huge. In order to achieve their personal and musical goals, they would have to be successful recording artists as well. Although Skull And Roses was conceived and structured by the Grateful Dead themselves, with no real input from Warner Brothers, in many ways it was a very conventional early 70s album. 1971 was right in the sweet spot of bands releasing live double albums, and thus Warners knew very well how to maximize the return on the record. This post will compare the live Grateful Dead album to other popular contemporary live rock albums from 1971, the better to see how the Dead were both different and similar to their peers.

The cover of Live/Dead, the epic live double lp released on Warner Brothers Records in November 1969
The Grateful Dead And Warner Brothers Records
The Dead had been signed to Warner Brothers Records in December 1966 by Joe Smith. In '66, Warners was widely regarded as the least hip and most backward of the major record companies, and Smith correctly assessed that signing one of the most rebellious bands in San Francisco would attract industry attention. From that point of view, however, the Dead had always been a sort of prestige signing for Warners, meant to attract other bands and industry cachet. I don't think the company expected to make much money off the Dead. In 1969, however, when the Dead had a chance to opt out of their contract, manager Lenny Hart made a deal behind their back and re-upped the band for another three years. That meant, at least, that Warners was not unhappy with the Dead's record sales.

My expectation is that Warners had made money on the band's debut album and Anthem Of The Sun, even if the Dead themselves had not yet made any money from them. Warners must have been in the red on Aoxomoxoa, but it could not have been a frightening amount or they would have let the Dead go to Columbia or MGM (the other bidders). Joe Smith was still an important player at Warners, and his faith in the band was rewarded. First with Live/Dead, which was spectacularly well reviewed, if not really a best seller, and then with the radio-friendly Workingman's and American Beauty.

It is an oft-told story, by Smith and others, that the Dead came to Warner Brothers in mid-71 to have a meeting with him. They bought along "dozens of people," according to Smith, showed him the iconic Kelly/Mouse cover art, and demanded that the album be called "Skullfuck." Smith talked them down on the grounds that most conventional retailers, like Sears or Montgomery Ward, would not stock the album. How serious the band was in this request remains open to question, but in any case they backed down. In a sense, by naming the album after themselves, they were in effect introducing themselves to their newer fanbase, who had only gotten on board the bus in the previous 18 months or so.

However, the story of the meeting with Joe Smith tells an implicit truth about the early 70s record business. Even for a bunch of piratical outlaws like the Dead, in order to succeed they needed their record company to be onboard with their next venture. This wasn't a matter of music, or taste, per se. The key issue was promotion and distribution, which was in the hands of a far flung network of employees and contractors. Warners released dozens of albums every month. If the Dead's albums weren't advertised as available, or weren't present in the stores, then the album wouldn't sell. When the Dead--or any band--played the local civic auditorium, the marketing goal was to knock out the crowd, and inspire everyone to go the nearest record mart and buy the new album. If the album wasn't there, the fans would just buy something else, and the opportunity for a snowball effect was lost.

Thus in the Summer '71, the Grateful Dead and Warner Brothers got on the same page. The Dead would release a live double album recorded at recent concerts, and Warners would get behind it. Smith did his part: Warners committed to laying out $100,000 in promotional expenses to allow the Dead to broadcast live concerts from 14 cities on their fall tour. The money covered production costs, promotional costs and compensation to the FM radio stations for lost advertising revenue. This insured that the full Warners push would support Skull And Roses. Of course, Warners would charge the $100K against the Dead's royalties, and they would have to sell a couple of hundred thousand extra records to make up for it, but it wouldn't have happened if Warners wasn't willing to lay out the cash up front.

The cover of the Cream album Wheels Of Fire, released in the US in July 1968. One album was recorded in the studio, and the other was recorded live in San Francisco in March 1968
Live Rock Concert Albums
I am not going to attempt to tell the history of live rock concert albums in this post, interesting as that might be. In the context of this post, I am just going to highlight some key live albums of the 60s. These are the sort of albums that record companies and Rolling Stone writers would have seen as important and influential. Rolling Stone writers, and other journalists, were a critical part of the equation, since they greatly influenced what was played on the then rather free-form FM radio. A good review in Rolling Stone got an album played all over the country, as djs then had great freedom to play what they wanted. Thus in 1971, faced with Skull And Roses, Warners executives would not have been interested in the precise history of live albums, but rather would have looked around to some recent live albums by established bands.

When rock concerts first became big business in the mid-60s, there was little thought to live recordings. For one thing, it was hard to record electric music live, and for another most bands just played sloppy versions of their popular hits, so the idea of releasing live rock music was a novelty. There were a few instances here and there--Five Live Yardbirds, and the Rolling Stones' Got Live If You Want It, for example--but live albums were not really part of rock. Live albums were more of the province of jazz musicians, who were easier to record, and seen as producing "serious" music worthy of preservation.

Perhaps the first significant album to change the industry's perception of live album was Cream's Wheels Of Fire. Wheels Of Fire was a double album, one recorded in the studio in 1967 and early '68, and the other lp recorded at the Fillmore and Winterland in March 1968. Recording technology had significantly improved in just a few years, and the live material sounded great. More importantly, the lengthy jams on "Crossroads" and "Spoonful," not only showed off Cream at their best, the music was treated with the reverential seriousness of jazz music. Cream was one of the biggest bands in the world in 1968, so anything they released would have sold. However, releasing a double album, with much of it not Pop music at all, only made Cream bigger than ever. The record industry took notice.

When the Grateful Dead had released Live/Dead in November 1969, it received phenomenal reviews from Rolling Stone and others. The music was hardly radio friendly, even by FM standards, but the album was cause to treat the Dead as serious musicians. There were a few other albums like that around that time, such as Pink Floyd's Ummagumma, a double lp that was also had one live and one studio album, like Wheels Of Fire. In that sense, the live album began to establish itself as a platform for serious bands to show off their chops. It was particularly important in the 60s for bands to prove they were "authentic," and live albums certainly fit that bill.

Of course, there was another attraction to live albums: they were cheap to record. As the 60s turned into the 70s, rock bands spent more and more time and money in the studio recording. It wasn't wasted time, either. As better and better albums were released, quick and dirty studio recordings had less and less appeal. From that point of view, recording a few rock shows was a cut-rate alternative, particularly when a band played the same venue all weekend. If the band played great, then an album could be put together on the cheap. If they didn't play that well, no matter. For one thing, certain problems could be fixed in the studio. More importantly, if a band broke up, or if their next studio effort was useless, the record company could still hawk a mediocre live recording. So it was very attractive for record companies to encourage live recordings. 

The cover of Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs And Englishmen album, recorded live in March 1970 and released in August.
Precursors: 1970
The Grateful Dead had recorded Workingman's in February and March 1970, and American Beauty around July. It seems they had begun working on a live album as early as October '70. I think like many such projects, engineers Bob Matthews and Betty Cantor were really doing the listening and editing, but the band had to have at least tacitly approved of the approach. Certainly, letting Bob and Betty do their thing had worked well for Live/Dead. Warner Brothers' had a good connection with the Dead through Jon McIntire, so by 1971 Joe Smith must have known at least generally that the Dead were looking at another live album. Smith would have looked back at 1970, and must have liked what he saw with respect to such albums.

Live At Leeds-The Who (Decca) released May 1970 (recorded Feb 14 '70)
The Who, always a great live band, had gone from being a modestly popular Mod band to a hugely popular English rock institution, thanks to Tommy. Live At Leeds had a song from Tommy, a few old hits, and some great covers, and sold a ton. The record industry took notice on both sides of the Atlantic.

Mad Dogs And Englishmen-Joe Cocker (A&M) released August 1970 (recorded Mar 27-28 '70)
Joe Cocker had had two very successful albums and a hit single under his belt by Spring 1970, but he had lost his band. Leon Russell put together a new, very large band, on short notice and went on tour with Cocker. The resulting double album, Mad Dogs And Englishmen, spawned a giant hit single and was a hugely successful album. Not only were many of the songs covers (Cocker wasn't a writer, but Leon Russell wrote a few), most of them hadn't appeared on a previous Cocker album either. Yet the energy from the live performance made the album seem anything but perfunctory.

Untitled-The Byrds (Columbia) released September 1970 (live recordings Mar '70)
The Byrds had been around since 1965, which was "forever" in 1970 rock terms. At the time, the fact that only Roger McGuinn remained from the original lineup was always held against them. However, with the great Clarence White on lead guitar, the Byrds were playing terrific new music and were tremendous live. Both sides of the equation were shown off well with the 1970 album Untitled, which featured one live and one studio album, following the Wheels Of Fire model. While not huge, Untitled was the most successful Byrds album in some time.

Grand Funk Railroad Live, recorded in Florida in June 1970, and released on Capitol Records in November '70
Live-Grand Funk Railroad (Capitol) released November 1970 (recorded June 23-25 '70)
Grand Funk Railroad were a hugely popular concert attraction, coming out of Flint, MI. Grand Funk were widely derided by East and West Coast rock critics as a band of hacks who couldn't play, and their fans were dismissed as losers whose preference for downers and booze was all that made GFR popular. Nonetheless, Grand Funk Railroad Live, recorded in Florida in June of 1970, and released in November, was hugely popular. Whatever made the Funk popular in concert seemed to translate well enough to vinyl.

At our distant remove, we may see little connection between Grand Funk Railroad Live and Skull And Roses. I am confident, however, that Warner Brothers saw a significant connection. Grand Funk was a hugely popular concert attraction whose appeal was hard to grasp for many listeners, and yet the album went double platinum. Thus a lot of record companies were going to be very interested when one of their popular touring bands wanted to make a live album. The Dead weren't the only ones. With that in mind, it will be instructive to consider some of the other live rock albums from 1971 by working bands, and compare them to Skull And Roses. Some of these were released before Skull And Roses, and some after, but they were all conceived during the same year, so they are worthy of comparison.

1971--The Year Of The Live Album

The UK cover of Elton John's 1971 live album 17-11-70, recorded on November 17, 1970, released in April 1971 on DJM Records.
The 1971 Live Album
Looking backwards, we can see a format for 1970 and '71 live albums. No one really agreed on it in advance, and record companies didn't necessarily force it on bands, but they saw what albums sold. So when bands had a plan to record their concerts, the companies were pretty well-disposed if the final product conformed to similar albums that had been successful. Now, sure, there were a number of live albums from the era that were released for contractual reasons, or because a band broke up (see the appendix for examples), but for bands that were releasing new albums a definite pattern emerged.

It's hard to generalize about 60s live rock albums, but the best of them established the artists as serious artists with a capital "A": Wheels Of Fire, Ummagumma and Live/Dead had all made lasting statements, similar to Miles Davis Live At The Plugged Nickel John Coltrane Live At The Village Vanguard.  But 1971 live albums were a little different. First of all, 1971 albums were structured like a mini-concert, with a punchy opening number, various modes during the show, and then a rocking conclusion. Second of all, rock was still young, and most bands hadn't released many albums. Thus, 1971 live albums were also "the next album" for each group, so they couldn't really duplicate any releases that had come before. Most of the material was new, whether original or covers. Any songs that had been previously released were given a makeover, with new arrangements or a lot of solos. Since most rock fans couldn't see their favorite band in concert, the live album was both a mini-concert and a new album. Skull And Roses fit perfectly into this mold.

The US cover of Elton John's 1971 live album 11-17-70, recorded on November 17, 1970, released in April 1971 on Uni Records.
17-11-70-Elton John (DJM) released April 1971 (recorded Nov 17 '70)
Today we compare a live Elton John show to a touring company for Phantom Of The Opera (Elton probably does too). But back in 1970, Elton was just an English singer-songwriter pushing his second album, opening at the two Fillmores. He performed an hour-long set at A&R Studios in New York on November 17, 1970, and it was broadcast live on WABC-fm in New York. Elton only fronted a trio in those days, with drummer Nigel Olson and bassist Dee Murray (who many years later was the bassist in the Bob Weir band). Back then, Elton could really play, and to this day he considers the show his best live performance.

Elton John wasn't well known at the time, but tracks like "Your Song" and "Take Me To The Pilot" were getting played on both FM and AM radio. Bootleggers put out a 35-minute excerpt from the show, and it attracted a lot of attention. According to DJM records, the live album was rushed out to get out in front of the bootleggers. That may have just been hype, an excuse to put out the album, but that was the story. The album, with just the date of the show as the title ("17-11-70" in the UK, and "11-17-70" in the US), sold well and gave Elton John a lot of credibility for a pop artist. The release both showed how live albums attracted attention and also betrayed music industry nervousness about bootlegs of FM broadcasts.

The Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East, then the finest band in the land, recorded on March 12 and 13, 1971 at the Fillmore East (and opening for Johnny Winter). Capricorn Records (distributed by Atlantic) released the album in July of '71
The Allman Brothers Band At Fillmore East (Capricorn) released July 1971 (recorded Mar 12-13 '71)
The Allman Brothers Band had been tearing up I-95 circuit throughout 1970, but they weren't widely known nationally. The Fillmore East album changed all that. The mighty Allmans, perfectly recorded in their prime by Tom Dowd, caught the FM listening nation's ear with this album. The double lp was a mixture of the best tracks from their first two albums and some great cover versions. In that respect, Allman Brothers At Fillmore East was similar to Live/Dead, bringing national attention to a great live band. Unlike Live/Dead, however, Fillmore East had some shorter, radio-friendly tracks and the album absolutely made the band. Of course, Duane Allman's unfortunate death at the end of the year brought even more attention to the group, but anyone who heard the album knew how great they were.

The double-lp format allowed Tom Dowd to structure the album like an Allmans concert set. It started with the punchy "Statesboro Blues," and the band went through its various modes, finally ending with the classic rave-up on "Whipping Post." Actual Fillmore East Allmans' sets were a lot longer, of course, but the album gave listeners the feel of an actual show. This sort of song sequencing had rapidly become standard practice for the double live album.

Frank Zappa brought the newest edition of The Mothers Of Invention to Fillmore East in June of 1971, and the album was released just two months later. The Mud Shark swept the nation shortly afterwards.
Fillmore East June '71-Mothers Of Invention (Bizarre/Reprise) released August 1971 (recorded June 5-6 '71)
Unlike the Allmans, Frank Zappa already had long and complicated history by 1971. Depending on how you want to count, the Fillmore East album was The Mothers' eighth album or Zappa's 10th (I am not counting Mothermania, OK?). Zappa had broken up the original Mothers in mid-'69, but by the next year, he had reconstituted the group with new members, fronted by the two former lead singers of The Turtles.

Fillmore East June '71 has aged in a peculiar way. Older listeners now find the instrumental tracks more interesting, and the ongoing narrative provided by Frank, Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman easy to skip. But I am confident that 15-year-olds of any era were just like me, eager to hear about a chance meeting at O'Hare International Airport that Don Preston had with members of The Vanilla Fudge rock band, and how a dance called the Mud Shark was sweeping the nation. Zappa, in his own unique way, latched onto the nascent live album format to give his audience a clear picture of what the new Mothers were like, and I'm fairly certain the album sold pretty well.

Chicago At Carnegie Hall (Columbia) released October 1971 (recorded Apr 5-10 '71) [4lp set]
Chicago had put out three absolutely huge albums, with hit singles to go with them. For the fourth album, Columbia released a hitherto unprecedented 4-lp box set, perhaps the first of its kind. It also served as a kind of Chicago's Greatest Hits set, as well, but the new live recordings meant that all of the band's fans would buy it, too.

Chicago At Carnegie Hall was a huge hit, of course, but the band was never happy with the recording. Although Chicago had a sort of MOR reputation, the band was full of excellent players, and I think Columbia wanted to show the Rolling Stone readers that the band was real and not some sort of concoction. In any case, if a band as hot and huge as Chicago was putting out a double-double live album, it was definitely the flavor de jour of the music industry. 

The inside cover of the Grateful Dead album (aka "Skull And Roses") included an invitation to Dead Freaks. "DEAD FREAKS UNITE: Who Are You, Where Are You, How Are You?" it said, encouraging people to write in to PO Box 1065 in San Rafael.
Grateful Dead (Warner Brothers) released October 1971 (recorded Apr-May '71)
In the context of this list, the Skull And Roses album was pretty typical. The Grateful Dead were an established concert attraction with some recent albums that were popular on FM radio. The double album was structured like a concert, with a rocking "Bertha" to start it off, a wide spectrum of stuff in the middle, and a banging "Not Fade Away" leading into the final outro. Although 70 minutes was hardly a Dead concert, it gave a concert feel to someone who had never seen one. With only one song from another album ("The Other One"), existing Dead fans were all going to buy the album. There were a bunch of covers on the album, many of them quite contemporary. For someone who had only heard the Dead on record--which was most rock fans--this was new territory. However, as we can see, releasing double live albums with a bunch of distinctly interpreted cover versions was what bands did in 1971.

Still, a couple of things stood out about Skull And Roses, setting it apart from every other album on this list. For one thing, the Dead were on their second double live album, and everyone else was on their first. For another, the Dead and Warner Brothers promoted the album by subsidizing live FM broadcasts in no less than 14 cities on the Grateful Dead's Fall tour. I have discussed this unique promotional approach at length elsewhere, but suffice to say none of the other bands on this list did so. I think fear of bootlegging was the biggest barrier. Bootleg record sales were actually trivial, but as they were all in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, so they had a high profile in the record industry. Ironically enough, bootleg lps helped the Grateful Dead build a huge audience long before cassette tapes, so the Dead's appetite for risk paid off in unexpected ways.

Performance: Rockin' The Fillmore, by Humble Pie, recorded in May 1971 and released in November, was an important and influential album, even if no one remembers that now.
Performance: Rockin' The Fillmore-Humble Pie (A&M) released November 1971 (recorded May 28-29 '71)
Although not widely remarked upon today, Performance: Rockin' The Fillmore was an album with a huge impact. Humble Pie were a cult act before the album, but once FM radio wore out the grooves, the Pie became headliners all over the country. Also, the thunderous beat of the band, and the maxed out vocal style of Steve Marriott were hugely influential to later bands like AC/DC, whether you like those sort of groups or not.

More significantly, Humble Pie's manager was one Dee Anthony. Dee Anthony was also the manager of Peter Frampton, who left Humble Pie shortly after this album was released. While the Pie were headlining all over America, Frampton was grinding it out, third on the bill, except in a few places like San Francisco, where he got a lot of FM play. Frampton got so much FM play in the Bay Area, in fact, that by mid-'75, he could headline Winterland and Marin Vets on consecutive nights. Anthony drew on his success with Humble Pie, and packaged the tapes from those two shows into Frampton Comes Alive, which for many years was the best selling live album ever.

Frampton Comes Alive was released in January 1976, and it instantly went to the top of the charts. It sold 6 million copies during the year of its release, and appears to have sold 11 million copies worldwide. With numbers like that, record companies were going to copy the formula. However, Frampton Comes Alive was a different beast than a 1971 live album. All the songs were from previous Frampton albums, even the token cover version ("Jumping Jack Flash", which had been on his 1972 Wind Of Change album). Thus the 1976-era live album served as a sort of "Greatest Hits" album for newer fans. There was little or no new material, even covers, on 1976-era albums.

Almost every touring band followed Frampton Comes Alive with a double-live album in the "Greatest Hits' mode. Some of them were good, and some of them were successful. It was particularly attractive for bands or artists that had complex recording histories with different bands on different labels. They could put their most famous songs on their own album, and capture at least some of the rewards that had been directed elsewhere. Dave Mason's 1976 double lp Certified Live, to name one typical example, included material not only from Mason's Columbia albums, but his Blue Thumb material, songs from Traffic, and songs where he had only been a session man, like "Gimme Some Lovin'" and a Hendrix-style "All Along The Watchtower" (Mason had played bass, later overdubbed by Jimi).

The Grateful Dead's entry in the 1976 sweepstakes was Steal Your Face, an album memorable only for its cover. But it too was a product of its time. UA wanted a double live album because that was the flavor of the year in the record industry. It had worked for the Dead in 1971, but it didn't work again.

From '72 onwards, live albums became a staple of a rock band's career, as long as the band could actually play live. Depending on contracts and other things, some bands released live albums with greater or lesser frequency. Only Frank Zappa released as much live material as the Dead--arguably more, in fact--although they are hardly exact parallels. As for other groups, in the wake of Frampton Comes Alive, pretty much every touring band released a double live album, including bands that had already done so a few years earlier. And the live album became a traditional way for a record company to get some mileage out of a band that had broken up or was on hiatus, so a lot of live albums got released after bands had moved on.

The Grateful Dead, of course, released more live albums than any of their peers. Only the Dead would have followed a hit double live album with a triple live album, and then another live album (Bear's Choice) after that. We tend to forget Steal Your Face and Dead Set, too, but for people out in the world who didn't have taper friends, it was what they had. By the mid-80s, however, that too had changed, and the Dead's concert revenues finally made them less dependent on record company returns. The risk that the band had taken back in '71, to let everyone hear their music, first on FM radio, and implicitly on bootleg records, and finally on cassette tapes, had finally paid off in a very big way.

4-Way Street, constructed from various 1970 concerts by CSNY, and released by Atlantic in April 1971, in order to keep the fires burning for their biggest act.
Appendix: Honorable Mention
For this post, I was interested in a selection of relevant live albums from the 1970-71 period, the sort of records that would have been foremost in the minds of record company executives. I was not concerned with specific release dates or exact chart positions. Nonetheless, in the interests of completeness, I thought I would comment on a few other albums, if only to show why I left them out. 

On Tour With Eric Clapton-Delaney And Bonnie And Friends (Atlantic) released March 1970 (recorded Dec 7 '69)
Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett were nobodies at the time, but they toured England and America with Eric Clapton, so Atlantic made sure there was something to sell.

Get Your Ya-Yas Out-Rolling Stones (Decca/London) released September 1970 (recorded Nov '69)
This live album was not planned, but the Stones and Decca were frantic about Liver Than You'll Ever Be and other bootlegs, so this release was intended to head them off. The Stones were in The Pantheon, along with Bob Dylan and The Beatles, so record companies didn't necessarily see the Stones' commercial prospects as comparable to other groups.

Deliverin'-Poco (Epic) released January '71 (recorded Sep 22-23 '70)
Poco had changed guitarists in October 1970, as Jim Messina was replaced by Paul Cotton. The band continued to tour, but had no new material, so Columbia released this album. That was OK, because Poco was a terrific live band. As a strange footnote, New York dj Pete Fortanale wrote the liner notes, and said that Poco steel guitarist Rusty Young was recommended to the band by Jerry Garcia. Garcia did not know Young nor Poco, and the story was completely fabricated.

4-Way Street-Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (Atlantic) released April 1971 (recorded June-July '70)
CSNY had effectively broken up, but sort of pretended they hadn't. So Atlantic released a double live album from the previous year's shows. A great record, albeit one rumored to have had its harmonies fixed up in the studio.

Live Johnny Winter And (Columbia) released May '71 (recorded Oct '70>Jan '71
Johnny Winter And was a great band, with Winter and Rick Derringer, with a great studio album, but when it bombed, Winter spiraled down in a bad way. Thus Columbia put out this terrible placeholder album. It turns out there was good, well-recorded material out there, finally released this century--I don't know what Columbia was thinking, releasing this junk.

First Pull Up Then Pull Down-Hot Tuna (RCA) released June 1971 (recorded late '70>early '71)
Hot Tuna's second album was live, as had been their first. Jorma and Jack were well known, but not Hot Tuna, but the penchant for live albums probably made RCA more amenable to their plans.
Rock Love-Steve Miller Band (Capitol) released September 1971 (live recordings early '71)
Steve Miller's sixth album, a single lp, was half-live, half-studio, showing off some of his blues chops.

Live In Concert-James Gang (ABC) released September 1971 (recorded May '71)
The James Gang were a truly great band who were still only popular in pockets. ABC may also have been nervous that lead guitarist and principal singer/songwriter Joe Walsh was on the verge of leaving. This fear was well-founded, but the live album made a nice memento for one of America's hardest rocking bands.

Welcome To The Canteen-Traffic (Island) released September 1971 (recorded June and July '71)
Traffic had always had a history of being an unstable band. In Summer '71, Traffic had done a few shows in England with a one-off lineup that included former member Dave Mason. The single album featured a mixture of Traffic songs from the first few albums, a Dave Mason song and a Spencer Davis Group classic. Fans were starved for any Traffic at all, and the album gave Island something to sell when the band toured America in the fall. 

Flowers Of Evil-Mountain (Windfall/CBS) released November 1971 (live recordings Jun 27 '70)
Mountain, too, released a half-live, half-studio single lp, probably due to lack of new material. The band stopped playing shortly after (although of course they had reformed within a few years). 

Jazz/Blues Fusion-John Mayall (Polydor) released 1972 (recorded Nov 18 and Dec 3-4 '71)
John Mayall's '71-'72 lineup was his best band, I swear, although this album doesn't show it. Given the tapes we have now, it's clear what a confused set of decisions Polydor made. They should have just released a conventional double live album.

Live With The Edmonton Symphony Orchestra-Procol Harum (Chrysalis/A&M) released April 1972 (recorded Nov 18 '71)
A far more ambitious and very different album than everything else on this list, this record prefigured a lot of progressive rock acts recording with symphonies and the like. It was hugely successful, and brought Procol Harum several more years of life. Although a special event, and not a document of a touring rock band, it would have been far less likely to have been planned if live albums hadn't been the hot thing in the Summer of '71. Ironically enough, Procol Harum was a terrific, rocking band in concert, and yet there was no release that memorialized that back in the day.