Friday, April 11, 2014

March 17, 1980 Masonic Hall, Seattle, WA: Robert Hunter and The Ghosts (Lost And Found)

The Ghosts, featuring Keith and Donna Godchaux, recorded in 1979-80, released an album on Whirled Records in 1984
This blog does not typically assess live concert tapes, whether well known or not, since so many other blogs and sites do a better job of that. In general, the archaeology of Hooterollin Around is focused on different sorts of evidence. However, when a tape is the only evidence that we have of a lost concert, and in particular one that may be very telling about the state of the Grateful Dead at a point in time, the blog is not going to ignore that information.

I am one of the few people who has attempted to document Robert Hunter's live performing history, particularly in the 1970s, in general, Hunter spent the mid-70s mostly working in somewhat conventional rock band settings, before finally narrowing his sights in mid-1978 to a mostly solo approach. Thus it was quite surprising to find a tape on the internet of Robert Hunter performing with Keith and Donna Godchaux  and their band The Ghosts, apparently (per the tape), on March 17, 1980 at the Masonic Temple in Seattle, Washington. While I have no other evidence save this, nevertheless the date is pretty plausible. Since Keith Godchaux would die in an unfortunate auto accident a few months later, it is easy to confirm that the tape is what it says it is--Robert Hunter making a live appearance, backed by two former members of the Grateful Dead and some other musicians. I have no idea whether this was for a single show or a few--I expect they played more than one show--but I had never heard of this collaboration before, and it tells me a number of interesting things.

The Tape
Here is the information. I have listened to the tape, and the setlist accurately describes the music. I have no other knowledge of this event.

The back cover of Robert Hunter's Promontory Rider album on Relix Records, an anthology that included material from the 1978 Alligator Moon sessions.
Robert Hunter and The Ghosts
March 17, 1980, Masonic Hall, Seattle, WAaudience recording
unknown gen cassette>cdr,unknown gen cassette>cdr
trade cdr > eac > wav > flac

Additional Lineage: Received as four long tracks,
tracks rejoined and retracked with Audacity,
Checksums and flac level 8 with traderslittlehelper

-Early Show?-
01 //Last Flash Of Rock and Roll
02 Stop That Train
03 Strange Man
04 Promontory Rider
05 Franklin's // Tower
06 -applause-
07 Better Move On

-Late Show?-
08 unknown snippet
09 Heart Of Glass >
10 Cruel White Water
11 Mississippi Half-Step
12 Sunshine Daydream >
Scarlet Begonias >
13 //Stella Blue >
Sunshine Daydream >
Scarlet Begonias
14 Last Flash Of Rock And Roll
15 Tiger Rose
16 -tuning-
17 It Takes A Lot To Laugh,
It Takes A Train To Cry

I can only guess at the lineup, based on listening to the tape and fragmentary information from their only release.
-The Ghosts-
Donna Godchaux vocals
Bill Middlejohn-guitar
Don Gaynor-guitar, vocals
Keith Godchaux piano, vocals
Larry Klein-bass
Grag Anton drums(I am not at all certain about this lineup, and anyone with additional information should put it in the Comments or email me. However, I will note that Steve Kimock's biography on his own site does not have him joining until later than March of 1980, when he joined The Heart Of Gold Band).

Since Hunter bids everyone goodnight after "Franklin's Tower," it appears the ensemble played two shows. The first part of the tape seems to be the end of the early show, and the later tracks seem to be the late show. Since they do not repeat songs, I assume that the venue had more of a nightclub setup, where fans could simply stay for the late show, rather than filing out and re-entering. The last two tracks (16.tuning and 17. It Takes A Lot To Laugh...) seem to be another edited-in bit, possibly from a different set or event.

[update]: thanks to a Correspondent, I have found out some information. There were at least three shows:
  • March 15, 1980: HUB Ballroom, U. of Washington, Seattle, WA
  • March 16, 1980: Fabulous Rainbow Tavern, Seattle, WA
  • March 17, 1980: Masonic Temple, Seattle, WA
The shows varied somewhat, but in general Robert Hunter performed solo and also sang a few numbers with The Ghosts. It appears there were multiple sets with different musicians coming and going, so it must have been more like a "Revue" than a simple Opener/Headliner setup. As a Commenter pointed out, it's worth considering that except for February and March 1980 (with the JGB and The Ghosts, respectively), Hunter never performed live with other members of the Grateful Dead. Given how many times Hunter has opened for numerous ensembles, that has to have been a conscious choice. Hunter's brief flirtation with Garcia and then in Seattle with The Ghosts seems to have been rejected as a route map.
After Midnight, recorded in February 1980, by the Jerry Garcia Band, featuring opening act Robert Hunter as a special guest

Robert Hunter Landscape, Spring 1980
Robert Hunter released two solo albums on Round in 1974 (Tales Of The Great Rum Runners) and 1975 (Tiger Rose). Although he had been quietly performing with a local group called Roadhog since 1974, he stepped forward under his own name in 1976. Robert Hunter and Roadhog peformed in the Summer of 1976, and in mid-1977, Hunter joined another existing group, Comfort. Robert Hunter and Comfort performed from mid-77 until mid-78. They recorded an unreleased album, Alligator Moon, made a couple of FM radio broadcasts and toured the East Coast. However, the band was apparently supported by Hunter, from his songwriting royalties, but in 1978 Hunter stopped performing with Comfort. For the next several months, he toured as a duo with former Comfort bassist Larry Klein. From 1979 onwards, Hunter was a solo performer.

When Hunter had been in Roadhog and Comfort, he had focused on performing his own songs. Hunter had made a point of not performing Grateful Dead songs with his own groups. I believe there was the occasional performance of a few chestnuts, like "Friend Of The Devil," but in general Hunter kept his own bands as distinct as he could from the Dead. Hunter's solo performances, while featuring a wide variety of new and old Hunter songs, also featured a lot of Grateful Dead songs. Most of those songs, however, were not being performed by the Grateful Dead in the late 70s, so it was fun for fans to hear live versions of songs like "China Cat Sunflower" or "Mr. Charlie," and there wasn't as much implicit reason to compare them with the contemporary Grateful Dead. In his own quiet way, Hunter celebrated his Grateful Dead connection while maintaining some artistic distance that allowed him to be evaluated as a performer in his own right.

Hunter's performance with The Ghosts, however, breaks all Hunter's conventions, more or less uniquely, as far as I can tell. Hunter sings "Franklin's Tower", "Mississippi Half-Step" and "Scarlet Begonias" in full out electric versions, and all three were staples of Grateful Dead live shows at the time. Hunter also does some songs from both his released and unreleased albums, and a solo version of a Blondie song (a standard thing for him at the time), but this recording is the only time I know of where Hunter puts himself, as a performer, into direct comparison with Garcia.

Keith And Donna Godchaux and The Ghosts
The performing history of The Ghosts is quite obscure. The band is only really known from a release on Whirled Records from 1984 (The Ghosts Playing In The Heart Of Gold Band), later re-released in various forms on Relix Records in 1986 and '88. Like all Relix releases, details are actually fairly sparse. I myself was not aware of any performances by The Ghosts in the Bay Area in 1979 or 1980, although there must have been a few. Keith and Donna Godchaux had left the Grateful Dead in March of 1979 (their last performance with the band was February 17, 1979), so I was alert to any new ventures by them. They very well may have played around a bit, but they seem to have kept a very low profile.

As rock fans, we always assumed that the members of our favorite bands were well-off, with an endless supply of "money for nothing," as Mark Knopfler put it. The reality was often quite different. Generally speaking, songwriters were the ones who made the most money in 1970s rock bands, and even the songwriters often had serious cash flow problems. Almost every 70s rock band, the Grateful Dead included, was effectively deficit financed, with loans from banks or the record company paying the day-to-day. Thus when revenue came in, it was often spoken for, so musicians could hardly count on a big payday, even if they sometimes got one. JGMF has documented how Jerry Garcia seems to have had serious tax issues in 1978. Even if Garcia was taking advice not to pay his tax bills (possibly as fallout from Round Records), it was a sign that Grateful Dead finances were hardly in good shape.

The Healy-Treece Band
When Keith and Donna Godchaux left the Grateful Dead, I don't think they really had any money. They probably got occasional royalty checks, but the amounts would have been unpredictable. They had to live on something, and as musicians, that meant playing music. I don't really have to guess at this--it's generally forgotten that Keith Godchaux toured with the Healy-Treece Band in 1979 and 1980, after they had left the Grateful Dead. It remains the most undocumented Grateful Dead spinoff band ever.

Healy-Treece Band (1980)
Dan Healy-vocals, guitar'
Richard Treece-lead guitar
Diane Mestrovich-vocals
Keith Godchaux-piano
Mike Larsheid-bass
Bill Kreutzmann-drums
The Healy-Treece Band had played a few dates in 1979, but they were only alluded to vaguely in Relix magazine. In 1980, however, the Healy-Treece Band booked the following shows
February 7, 1980 The Palms Club, Milwaukee, WI (tentative)
February 9, 1980 Stage Door, Providence, RI
February 10, 1980 Traces Club, Hillside, NJ
February 11, 1980 Toad's Club, New Haven, CT
February 12, 1980  Academy of Music Cabaret, Philadelphia, PA
February 13, 1980  Final Exam, Randolph, NJ
February 15, 1980  Speakers Club, New Paltz, NY
February 16, 1980 SUNY, Buffalo, NY
February 17, 1980  JB Scott's, Albany, NY
February 19, 1980 Paradise Club, Boston, MA
February 20, 1980  Fast Lane, Asbury Park, NJ
February 21, 1980 Stockton State College, Pomona, NJ
February 22, 1980 My Father's Place, Roslyn, NY
February 23, 1980 The Red Rail, Nancet, NY
February 24, 1980 The Lone Star, New York, NY
February 26-27, 1980 The Cellar Door, Washington, DC
February 28, 1980 ?
February 29-March 2, 1980 The Other End, New York, NY
[as always, anyone with any information, corrections or memories--real or imagined-- about the 1979-80 Healy/Treece Band, please include them in the comments or email me]

The rhythm section (Keith, Larsheid, Billy K) was the same as the late 1975 Keith and Donna Band. Diane Mestrovich is unknown to me, and I find it surprising that Keith went on the road without Donna. However, I can only guess that they really needed the money. I have never heard a tape of the Healy-Treece Band from this era, so I don't know how they sounded, or what they played. Guitarist Richard Treece seems to have been a long-standing friend of Healy's. I have confirmed that Treece was not the same Richard Treece that played with the fine English bands Help Yourself and Green Ray. Other than that, very little is known, though some interesting photos of the group at Toad's Place (Feb 11 '80) in New Haven can be seen here.

The Healy-Treece Band toured the same circuit of clubs that Robert Hunter had been playing n the East Coast, where there was always a need for any Grateful Dead proxy. I think Healy-Treece had played the same circuit the previous Fall--a second-hand eyewitness told me that Keith had mostly played electric bass, strange as that sounds. There is a photo of Keith Godchaux on stage at the Pastime Pub, in Amityville, NY, on May 10, 1979 and he is playing guitar, so who knows. (There is also a backstage photo, and Keith is playing a guitar as well). There are the faintest stories of Keith and Donna playing Mendocino bars under the name Billy And The Beaters, so perhaps the Healy-Treece configuration went back further than anyone realized.

Nonetheless, no band plays 20 dates in 23 days unless they need the money, so Keith and Donna must have needed money. The putative date of the Hunter/Ghosts show fits nicely with the known Healy/Treece schedule, too. We also know where Hunter was in February of 1980: touring the East Coast with the Jerry Garcia Band. We know from Hunter's own liner notes for the fine After Midnight set that money was a squeeze, which was one reason that Hunter had gone solo. So if there was a good paying Hunter/Ghosts gig in Seattle in mid-March, both Hunter and the Godchaux could have used the money.

Keith Godchaux's final live performance on July 10, 1980 at The Back Door in San Francisco, with his new band The Heart Of Gold Band, was released on Relix Records in 1986.
In many ways, the 1980 Ghosts performance with Hunter was a road not taken. I'm always curious as to how many other shows by this ensemble there might have been, but I have to think there weren't many. Sadly, Keith Godchaux died in a car crash on July 23, 1980, so no matter what, this didn't last long. Many people grumble today, rightly or wrongly, that groups like Furthur, Phil and Friends or Ratdog are just sort of pedigreed Grateful Dead copy bands. Yet back in 1980, here was three members of the Dead, treading awfully close to that territory. To my knowledge, Hunter never played electric versions of significant Grateful Dead songs again on stage. Was that a good thing? We'll never know.

Everything about performances by The Ghosts, and particularly this performance with Robert Hunter, remain appropriately spectral. Anyone with an eyewitness account, archaeological evidence,second hand rumors or just some intriguing speculation is encouraged to put them in the Comments, in the hopes that we can bring some more about this performance into the light.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Jerry Garcia Recording Studio History: November 1965-January 1967: Early Days (Studiography I)

The Warlocks first recording, a single of "Don't Ease Me In"/"Stealin'" on Scorpio Records, recorded at Buena Vista Studios in June 1966
Jerry Garcia is rightly remembered as one of the great live performers in American musical history. Yet Garcia spent the first 20 years or so of his career working hard in the studio, trying both to record his music successfully in a structured setting and to sculpt his live performance work into a form that made it commercially accessible without losing its depth. Garcia himself was perpetually unhappy with the studio and live albums of the Grateful Dead, not to mention his other recordings, and yet those very same recordings were responsible for the initial musical interest of a huge number of future Deadheads.

There are many ways to consider Jerry Garcia's professional experiences in recording studios. I am going to approach Garcia's evolution as a musician from the point of view of the actual studios themselves. In many ways, Garcia's career was defined by the limitations and opportunities provided by the specific studios he worked in. One little-remarked detail of Garcia's career was that the music industry itself came to San Francisco in the 1960s. Up until 1965, as far as music was concerned, San Francisco was no different than any other city save for Los Angeles and New York. There were only a few studios in San Francisco, far below the standard of the two standards of the music capitals, used for commercial jingles and local singles in the rock, soul and country markets, and providing a far lower quality than the high end studios the music industry preferred.

Yet San Francisco was the center of the rock music universe in the late '60s, and rock music sold records on a scale that the music industry could hardly imagine, so top-of-the-line studios began to open in the Bay Area by the end of the decade. Thus Jerry Garcia could move from being a guy stuck in a local backwater to a musician who had access recording opportunities equal to what was available in Los Angeles, New York or London.

Unpacking Garcia's studio career will take numerous posts, so I am starting with the beginning of the Grateful Dead's career. In late 1965, when the Grateful Dead evolved from The Warlocks, there were only four professional studios in San Francisco. The Dead ultimately worked at least three of them, and since the fourth one had Dan Healy as its regular engineer, its safe to say that they would have known if it had anything to offer them. As a result, any plans to make a real record that captured the Grateful Dead had to take place out of town.

Bobby Freeman had a hit single in 1958 with "Do You Wanna Dance" on Josie Records. Then 16-year old Jerry Garcia did not play on it, no matter what he might have said.
Prelude: No, Jerry Garcia Did Not Play On "Do You Wanna Dance" in 1958
For reasons that are hard to fathom, Jerry Garcia consistently told his friends that he had played on the 1958 hit single "Do You Wanna Dance," by San Franciscan Bobby Freeman. The song was a big hit on Josie Records, an early example of the type of swinging rock and roll that would soon be popularized by songs like "The Twist." From the 1960s until at least the 80s, Garcia told his friends that he had played on the record.

"Do You Wanna Dance" was recorded in 1958, when Garcia was 15 or 16 years old. At the time, he could barely play guitar (by his own admission) and had no connection to anyone in the recording industry. Whatever Garcia's motives for claiming that he had played on the record, the claim made no sense. Grateful Dead historian Dennis McNally attempted to confirm this story with Garcia, but Garcia was uncharacteristically unforthcoming. McNally finds it all but impossible that Garcia played on the record, and I have to agree, so it plays no part in this story.

Leo De Gar Kulka, owner and engineer of Golden State Recorders, at the mixing board. Golden State was at 665 Harrison.
Golden State Recorders, 665 Harrison Street, San Francisco
The Grateful Dead's first real recording station was at  Leo De Gar Kulka's Golden State Recorders, which had opened in 1964. At the time, the studio was in a somewhat gritty area, located at 665 Harrison Street between 2nd and 3rd. That's hardly the case today, considering the address is in walking distance of the SF Giants ballpark. Kulka had been a Los Angeles studio  veteran, and Golden State handled a wide variety of clients, but it had a good reputation as a place with a funky sound. Golden State had a four-track recorder, when its competitors Coast, Commercial and Columbus all still only had three-tracks.

Autumn Records, run by KYA-am djs Tom Donahue and Bobby Mitchell, had a hip reputation for finding new acts, like the Beau Brummels, The Vejtables and The Mojo Men. They recorded demos for various other hip acts, including Grace Slick and The Great Society and the Warlocks. When the Warlocks recorded their six-song demo at Golden State, on November 3, 1965, they used the name "The Emergency Crew" since they were concerned that other bands had rights to the name Warlocks. In any case, Mitchell and Donahue passed on the fledgling Warlocks, and the tracks remained officially unreleased for thirty years.

The intriguing question about Golden State was whether Garcia recorded there outside of the confines of the Grateful Dead. One of Autumn's hit acts was Bobby Freeman, who had scored a big hit in 1958 with his Josie Records single "Do You Want To Dance," covered many times by many other groups. Autumn had signed Freeman, and in 1964--pop music years are like dog years, so that would be 42 years later--they had another hit with "C'mon And Swim."

Bobby Freeman got back in the charts in 1964 with "C'mon And Swim." Produced by 20 year old Sylvester (Sly Stone) Stewart, it was the second release on Tom Donahue's Autumn Records, and reached #5 in July 1964
Autumn's producer was a 20 year old KSOL-dj named Sylvester Stewart, later better known as Sly Stone. Freeman was a great performer, and was typically the star musical attraction at North Beach's infamous Condor Club, along with the topless Carol Doda. Freeman never really had another hit, but he was a popular San Francisco performer throughout the 60s. I happen to know that one regular attendee at Freeman shows was one Dick Latvala. Dick enjoyed dancing at Bobby Freeman shows, at least until he found another band he liked dancing to. I am quite enamored of the idea that Garcia might have played on some Autumn sessions for Sly Stone in late 1965, but there's no evidence of it, and Dennis McNally thinks it was extremely unlikely.  [For more about Golden State Recorders, see here]

Buena Vista Studios was on the top floor of this 1897 mansion, just above the Haight Ashbury district
Buena Vista Studios, 737 Buena Vista West, San Francisco
The Grateful Dead's next recording adventure took place in a mansion in the Haight-Ashbury, where an inspired fellow traveler who'd had the foresight to marry an heiress had built his own recording studio in the top floor of his house. Gene Estribou had married an heir to the Spreckels sugar fortune, and they lived in a huge house built in 1897, just above Masonic Avenue near Haight Street, at 737 Buena Vista West [for a complete overview of the house, later owned by Graham Nash and then actor Danny Glover, see JGBP's great post].

Although it was on the 5th floor of the mansion, Estribou's studio had superior equipment for the time, with a four-track recorder, at a time when most studios were still using three-tracks. A number of San Francisco bands made demos there, as Buena Vista Studios was used as a place for famous (or infamous) producer Bobby Shad to audition acts. The Wildflower and The Final Solution both signed with Shad's label, Mainstream (Final Solution never released anything, and today they are rightfully ashamed of their name). Big Brother And The Holding Company did not sign with Shad, but some months later, stuck in Chicago, they did split with Chet Helms and signed with Shad at Mainstream, much to their future dismay.

Apparently, photographer Herb Greene introduced the Dead to Estribou, and the Dead recorded at Buena Vista studios "the day after a Saturday night Acid Test party at California Hall, on the fringe of the seedy Tenderloin district. Band and crew hauled massive amounts of heavy equipment up four flights of stairs to rehearse and record some of their first studio demos under their new name." If this vague, acid-drenched memory is correct, that would place the recording session on May 30 or so, since the Dead played a LEMAR Benefit at California Hall on Sunday, May 29, 1966.

Per Rock Scully, The Dead didn't recall the episode fondly, nor did Estribou :
Weir was very irritated about hauling the band’s gear up to the fifth floor; Lesh dismissed Estribou as a “dilettante”; and Garcia summarized the sessions: “we never got in on the mixing of it and we didn’t really like the cuts and the performances were bad and the recordings were bad and everything else was bad, so we didn’t want it out…it doesn’t sound like us.”
Estribou himself also had a hard time: “It was an effort to get out of the zone of indecision, as you can imagine. The early Dead was trying to find themselves…and get a product out, when Phil wanted to do one thing and Jerry wanted to do another… So it was frustrating for everybody, but we had to get something finished rather than nine thousand hours of shit that was unusable.”
Thankful as we are for the several tracks that endure, which include the thinly-distributed "Don't Ease Me In"/"Stealin' single and a few outtakes, the entire episode didn't generate the music that the band was trying to make. In that respect, it must have been a blunt lesson for the Dead. However much they wanted to believe that they could make music on the top floor of mansion of a rich, willing hippie, it wasn't going to come out the way they had hoped. One way or another, the Dead were  going to have to get into a real studio, and that inevitably would mean a real record company. 

Long after Coast Recorders moved its location from 960 Bush Street, it became The Boarding House
Coast Recorders, 960 Bush Street, San Francisco
The history of the Dead's 1966 demos are rather confusing (for a great discussion, see LIA's post here). It does seem that Estribou took the Dead to another studio for some of the sessions. He says it was "Western Recording," but since that studio was in Los Angeles, Blair Jackson speculates that it was Coast Recorders. Coast Recorders was housed in a former nightclub, a large basement room at 960 Bush. It had a three-track recorder, and was mainly used for commercial and pop recordings. One of the regular engineers was Dan Healy, but he wouldn't have been used for the Estribou sessions. Healy had been the "house" engineer at a place called Commercial Recorders (at 149 Natoma St, in an old firehouse), and he used to sneak bands in there after hours--possibly including the Dead, though not likely--and he was familiar with what few studio options there were in San Francisco.

If some of the Dead demos were in fact recorded at Coast (or even at Commercial), it was another example of a professional studio that was just unsuitable for the music the Dead were trying to make. The other historical curiosity about Coast Recorders was that when the studio moved from 960 Bush (to 1340 Mission Street), the Bush Street room returned to being a nightclub. After briefly being the Troubadour North, it became The Boarding House. So from that point of view, Jerry Garcia did record an album at Coast Recorders--its just that it was Old And In The Way that recorded there, on October 8, 1973, when it was a nightclub.

[update] Apparently, after the first album was recorded in late January 1967, the Dead re-recorded "The Golden Road To Unlimited Devotion" at Coast, in order to release it as a single.

[update] Commercial Recorders, 149 Natoma Street, San Francisco
Scholarly reader Runonguinness reports that it appears that Dan Healy did surreptitiously record the Dead at Commercial Recorders, where he worked, in late 1966
I think the Dead definitely did record with Healy at Commercial Recorders in late '66. There is a Healy interview from before the Sacramento show on 1993-05-23 printed in Best Of Guitar Player Grateful Dead issue from 1993 on page 68 of which he says

“I still had my job at the radio station (KMPX), and I was still working at the recording studio (Commercial Recorders). The next thing I did (after assembling a PA for the Fillmore Dead show) was to sneak the Dead into the studio after hours and we would record all night. As soon as they would leave I’d clean the studio like nothing had happened except that there would be this blue haze from the cigarette smoke. I thought I was getting away with something, but in retrospect, Lloyd (Pratt) probably knew all along and just didn’t say anything. He was really wonderful. We made some great tapes during those sessions but we couldn’t get any radio play because we weren’t in the club. The AM Top 40 guys wouldn’t play you if they didn’t own a piece of you, and if they didn’t play you, you didn’t go anywhere. So I’d take these tapes down to KMPX and play them after three o’clock in the morning when people didn’t care what you played anyway. Eventually there were several other bands besides the Dead whose tapes I produced and who I played during these late night radio show. Pretty soon it became a happening thing to listen to tapes late at night on KMPX. Almost overnight it became this secret, cult thing to listen to late-night FM radio; this dormant thing literally exploded, and people began clamoring to buy ad time and the thing just took off."

Scully says much the same on p 60-61 of Living With The Dead but I suspect he's quoting Healy's interview. Additionally he mentions demos for Silver Threads (presumably the one on Rare Cuts), You Don't Have To Ask/Otis On A Shakedown Cruise and "many of the songs" from the first album.

Healy's entry in "Skeleton Key" also takes great chunks from this interview.
There is something slightly odd about the timeline, since dj Larry Miller did not take over the midnight shift at KMPX-fm until February, 1967, but perhaps Healy would just go in and play the tapes anyway. He would have known all the engineers. In any case, Garcia must have found Commercial just as wanting as San Francisco's other professional studios at the time.
Jerry Garcia assisted the Jefferson Airplane in November 1966, during their recording of Surrealistic Pillow, at RCA Studios in Hollywood (at 6363 Sunset at Ivar)

RCA Studios, 6363 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles
The Grateful Dead recorded their first album in less than five days starting January 30, 1967 at RCA Studios in Los Angeles. Although the studio was housed in an unassuming building at 6363 Sunset Boulevard (at Ivar), not far from the Hollywood Palladium and The Hullabaloo, RCA's facility were apparently top-of-the-line, far beyond anything available in San Francisco at the time. Yet it often goes unremarked that in early November, nearly three months before recording the first album, Jerry Garcia spent a week or two in Los Angeles with the Jefferson Airplane, helping them record Surrealistic Pillow.

A number of interesting timeline issues raise their heads. Firstly, it is known that the Dead agreed to a contract with Joe Smith of Warner Brothers on September 30, 1966, but did not sign until December 1. What was at issue? It is intriguing to consider that Garcia shared RCA's studio with the Airplane in November, and the Dead recorded there the next January. It does seem that whatever else may have been at stake with the contract--money was surely a factor--implicitly or explicitly a commitment to record at RCA seems to have been part of the bargain.

Another peculiar fact, rarely remarked upon afterwards, was that the Airplane were recording their second album, and they invited someone to help them who had seemingly only played two studio sessions, resulting in only one unsatisfactory single. Now, Jerry Garcia's ability to synthesize information quickly has been remarked upon by numerous friends and collaborators. Yet how did he know enough to help the Airplane record Surrealistic Pillow, when he himself had no such experience? Garcia played the high guitar part on "Today," very reminiscent of "Morning Dew," and acoustic guitar  on "Plastic Fantastic Lover," "My Best Friend" and "Comin' Back To Me." More importantly, he added some chords to "Somebody To Love," changing it from the drone of the Great Society's version to the exciting AM hit of the Airplane. Genius though he may have been, how did Garcia know how to project his music onto a studio recording?

Garcia's well-documented contribution to Surrealistic Pillow, confirmed by RCA studio logs (per McNally) and testimony from the Airplane members, amplified my speculation that Garcia cut some Bobby Freeman tracks with Sly Stone at Golden State. Yet it seems Garcia helped the Airplane record their seminal album with even less experience than their own, as the Airplane were on their second album. Garcia's suggested arrangements for Surrealistic Pillow seem to have come from educated guesses, rather than any pre-existing studio experience [update: Garcia's appearance on Surrealistic Pillow was just the first of many Garcia contributions to the records of others: for a great career summary, see LIA's post]
The Grateful Dead backed Jon Hendricks when he recorded the title track for a movie soundtrack, "Fire In The City," at Columbus Recorders at 906 Kearny.

Columbus Recorders, 906 Kearny St, San Francisco
The Grateful Dead still had one more studio episode prior to recording their first album in Los Angeles. Soon after signing their contract, they spent some time in the studio working with singer Jon Hendricks on the soundtrack to a documentary movie about antiwar protesters called Your Sons And Daughters. Hendricks was well-known as the leader of the groundbreaking vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks and Ross (vocalizing Charlie Parker solos), and Lesh and Garcia in particular were honored to work with him.

The band spent a few days with Hendricks at Columbus Recorders, at 906 Kearny. Columbus Recorders was a popular studio for commercial work and the like, but it too had a three-track recorder. The Dead ended up backing Hendricks on two songs, "Fire In The City" and "Your Sons And Daughters," both released as a Jon Hendricks single on Verve. However, according to McNally, although the Dead enjoyed working with Hendricks, they were uncomfortable with the overt polemical political stance of the movie and asked that their name be removed from the soundtrack.

Nonetheless, although Columbus Recorders was hardly a good room for a technologically advanced rock band, the Kearny Street studio would play an important part in Grateful Dead history. About 16 months after the December 1966 sessions with Hendricks, the band would return to Columbus Recorders with Dan Healy to mix Anthem Of The Sun.

Jerry Garcia returned to RCA Studios to record the Grateful Dead's debut album at the end of January, 1967
January 30-February 3, 1967: RCA Studios, 6363 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA
Jerry Garcia returned to RCA Studios with the Grateful Dead in the last week of January, 1967. They recorded their album in four days, and mixed it on the fifth. Legend has it that Warners offered to let them keep the money they would have spent on studio time if they finished the album quickly, and supposedly that is why they rushed through the recording.

Whatever the Grateful Dead's resistance to the mainstream record companies, however, the band had tried out the available studios in San Francisco and found them wanting. Jerry Garcia's sole known satisfying musical experience in the studio up until 1967 was his work with the Jefferson Airplane on Surrealistic Pillow. Thus I do not think it was a coincidence that their first album was recorded there. Nonetheless, it was a sign of the simplicity of the era that even for a band on a major label, an album recorded in late January was in the stores by March 20 or so. The Dead had managed to make their first album at an industry standard studio, but rock recording was about to go through a series or revolutions, and the Dead were well primed to be on the front lines.

Jerry Garcia, for his part, had found the time to work with the Airplane in the studio. This was a characteristic of Garcia's music throughout his career, as he found time to record outside of the Dead no matter what his touring schedule. When rock music was still a growing concern, even rock stars didn't have studios in their garages, so that meant Garcia had to play in more typical professional settings. For the next album, the Dead would traverse the country trying to find a suitable studio, only to return to a tiny, primitive room in San Francisco that they had already used, but that arc will have to wait for the next installment.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Gospel Oak/Mountain Current/33 1969-72 (Matt Kelly II)

The great guitarist T-Bone Walker, in his prime
Matt Kelly, 1969
Matt Kelly had had a pretty good run as a musician in 1968. He had joined the embers of The New Delhi River Band, and along with bassist Dave Torbert and drummer Chris Herold, two members of the NDRB, that group had morphed into Shango. Shango played a few interesting gigs, and ultimately evolved into the group Horses. Horses was produced by the team of John Carter, Tim Gilbert and Dave Diamond, and they had already had produced some hits with "Acapulco Gold" by The Rainy Daze and "Incense And Peppermints"  by the Strawberry Alarm Clock. Yet, despite a not-terrible album on White Whale Records, Horses went nowhere. The producers moved on to greener pastures, and Torbert, Herold and Matt Kelly retreated to the Bay Area to lick their wounds.

Both Torbert and Kelly took a hiatus from their professional music careers, albeit in different ways. Torbert took off for Maui at the end of 1968, and spent most of the next 16 months or so surfing. I'm not sure what else Torbert did in Maui--probably not much, since there wasn't that much to do--but as far as I know he was a true Surf Bum at a time when surfing in Maui was truly like surfing in paradise, as long as you weren't into civilization.

Herold, meanwhile, was a Conscientious Objector from the draft. He accepted alternative service, which in his case was driving a hospital truck. So from 1969 through 1971, Herold drove a hospital truck, and only played music on weekends. As a result, Herold played in a somewhat legendary but still part-time Santa Cruz Mountains band called Mountain Current. As far as I know, Mountain Current was a sort of prototype jam band, playing improvised, danceable music without a lot of structure. While never a major group, even in Santa Clara County, they would still turn out to play a significant part in the Kingfish saga, though not for a few more years.

Matt Kelly, meanwhile, was left without much to do in 1969. He had started being a professional musician around 1967, but by the end of 1968 he didn't even have a band. He'd played a fair amount of gigs around and about with the bands he'd been in, but he was just another harmonica player and rhythm guitarist on the Bay Area scene. Kelly loved the blues, but he was a suburban white boy who'd learned the music from records. However, although 1969 began inauspiciously for Kelly, the next few years would turn out to be pretty interesting. Kelly had an opportunity to really learn about the blues from the source, and then he made a record in England of all places. As a result, Kelly ended up playing a critical, though, unexpected role in the career of Dave Torbert and the history of the New Riders Of The Purple Sage.

The Blues
Guitarist Mel Brown's I'd Rather Suck My Thumb album on Impulse! Records, recorded in Los Angeles in 1969 with Matt Kelly, and released in 1970.
The blues were very popular amongst young white rock musicians, but most of them had learned about it from records. Bands like The Butterfield Blues Band and Cream had made the likes of Muddy Waters, B.B. and Albert King popular, and those groups had started to play the Fillmore circuit regularly. So an aspiring blues player like Kelly had certainly seen some of the great bluesmen in concert by 1969. While I'm not exactly certain who Kelly got to see, it's plain he had seen some fine Chicago blues harmonica players. However, he hadn't really had any chance to learn blues music from the inside.

I'm not aware of Kelly working in any band in 1969, and I think he was just hanging out in the South Bay. As a result, one night in the Summer of 1969, Kelly and some friends went to a funky blues club in East Palo Alto called The Exit. At the club (and possibly on stage) was guitarist and singer Mel Brown. Brown wasn't a major figure on the white Fillmore circuit, but he was popular in the black West Coast blues scene. Kelly:

I was pretty mellow [but] I had a few drinks and my friends and I went to an all-black nightclub, an after hours club, where all the black musicians would go to play. We were the only white people in the club, we had a few drinks, and got a little loose, and quite to my own surprise I found myself walking towards the stage right in the middle of a song. I jumped right up and started playing along, which is not the kind of thing one does in a club like this; it was really kind of rough you could get yourself killed. In my case it worked to my advantage because Mel really liked my playing and saw potential in me. Mel basically said I’m doing a record in LA, I’m driving down the day after tomorrow, why don’t you come down with me? We did, we drove down in his Caddy. He lived in Watts, and in between sessions we would go to these blues clubs in LA and he would introduce me. He was a hero to the black community. I got to meet all these great blues players like T- Bone [Walker] and Jimmy Witherspoon. It ended up being a truly life changing experience for me. Aside from getting on Mel’s record that was how I made all my contacts with that world. 
Impulse! was mainly known as a jazz label, and its most prominent artist was John Coltrane. Nonetheless, the label released an album by Mel Brown.

I'd Rather Suck My Thumb-Mel Brown (Impulse 1970)
Mel Brown - guitar, vocals
Matthew Kelly - harmonica
Clifford Coulter - organ, electric piano
Johnny Carswell - organ
Bob West - electric bass
Gregg Ferber - drums
Recorded July, August, October '69Rapp (RIP) -- vocals, bass, rhythm guitar (1971)
Matt Kelly seems to have spent the Summer and Fall of 1969 getting a chance to hang out with Mel Brown and play with real blues musicians. Within two years, Kelly would end up forming a band that backed touring blues musicians, so Kelly plainly soaked up all the knowledge he could from Mel Brown about playing the blues and working as a blues musician. However, I have not been able to track down any actual performances by Kelly during this period, although I'm sure there must have been a few.

Gospel Oak's sole album, released in 1970 on Kapp Records
Somehow, Matt Kelly went to England at the end of 1969. Why, exactly, Kelly went there remains obscure. I don't know how he afforded it, since he was hardly working, but clearly he found a way. However, I do know that after the rise of The Beatles, numerous American musicians and bands moved to England, hoping to make it in Swinging London. Here and there a few of them ultimately even "made it," for those of you who recall the likes of Carl Douglas ("Kung Fu Fighting") or Gary Wright (in Spooky Tooth and later "Dream Weaver"). Most others, like The Misunderstood (from Riverside) or Chris Rowan (who went and returned in 1969), came back with little to show for it. Kelly's experience was more of the latter.

Kelly's few comments about his sojourn in England are very vague. This is not surprising, since it was some time ago, and no one save me is really concerned about the details. However, it seems that Kelly fell in with an American group called Gospel Oak. According to Kelly:
Actually what happened was I ended up going to England. I was playing in a band called Gospel Oak over there. The name came from a debunked underground station (tube station).  I met up with these guys from Indiana who had a record deal with MCA Their manager was one of the publicists for the Beatles so it sounded like a really good deal. 
Just as musicians from all over went to San Francisco to emulate the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane, musicians went to London to emulate the Beatles.

Gospel Oak released an album on Kapp, an American MCA subsidiary. I have never heard the album, but supposedly it's OK. The band on the album was:
GOSPEL OAK (Kapp Records 1970)
Bob LeGate-lead guitar, vocals
Matt Kelly-harmonica, guitar
Cliff Hall-keyboards
John Rapp-bass, vocals
Kerry Gaines-drums
plus Gordon Huntley-pedal steel guitar
Gordon Huntley was not a member of the group. He was one of the very few pedal steel guitarists in England, and as a result played on many English recordings (Elton John's "Country Comfort" is probably the most well-known).

I'm not aware of any performances by Gospel Oak in England. However, there must have been some record company support, so perhaps the band members got a weekly wage (a typical arrangement), and didn't need to gig. In any case, it seems that the record company must have been willing to pay to fly someone over, because it appears that Gospel Oak needed an extra member. This is how the otherwise obscure Yanks-In-England band played a part in the Grateful Dead saga. Kelly:
I wrote to Torbert, who was in Hawaii, and we sent him money for a plane ticket. He was going to fly over and join the band. From Hawaii, he stopped at his parents for two days to pick up a few things and fly to London from there. While he was there at his parents he got a phone call from David Nelson of the New Riders of the Purple Sage who said:  'we have this new band with Jerry Garcia on pedal steel and we would really like for you to play bass.’ David had a difficult time with this so he called me up and told me the situation and I said ‘yeah. Go for it. Do it.’ 
Like many parts of the New Riders saga, this story has been repeated so many times by all the participants that it is universally accepted at face value. I myself have never entirely bought it. David Gans kindly took up my request to ask David Nelson about it, and Nelson conceded that it was no coincidence that Torbert got a call at his parents house on his way to England.

Think about this for a minute. David Nelson and Dave Torbert were in a band together for years, and John Dawson was a good friend of Torbert's as well. Torbert had been in Maui since late 1968, far from civilization, and he gets a surprise letter from Matt Kelly, followed by a plane ticket to London to join his band. Do you think that Nelson or Dawson just happened to be calling Torbert's parents in Redwood City on the day that Torbert dropped by (I have heard this version of the story)?

Garcia had been playing with Nelson and Dawson since May of 1969. By early 1970, as I have obsessively documented, the New Riders were on an enforced hiatus since they had no bass player. Phil Lesh had lost interest, and rehearsal bassist Robert Hunter was never actually invited to join the group. It seems obvious that Nelson and Dawson knew exactly when Torbert would be coming through town. So it's clear to me, at least, that they let Matt Kelly's record company send Torbert a ticket to get back to San Francisco--the 1970 Grateful Dead were effectively bankrupt--and then pitched Torbert the chance to join the New Riders.

Was Dave Torbert surprised to arrive at his parents' house in April 1970 and get offered the bassist's job in the New Riders Of The Purple Sage? Probably, he was surprised, but it wasn't a coincidence. Nelson and Dawson knew when he was coming, because clearly Torbert had told them. By pitching him over the phone, Torbert was legitimately able to present it as a surprise to Kelly. Kelly, to his credit, recognized what a good opportunity it was for his friend, and told Torbert to take the offer. Kelly:
This worked to my advantage later on because Gospel Oak ended up breaking up and when I came back from London, I started sitting in and playing with the New Riders. Out of that and some recording sessions that I had been working on, David quit New Riders and we started Kingfish together. That was in 1973.
The close friendship between Kelly and Torbert was confirmed by Kelly's willingness to let Torbert try for the brass ring when he had the chance. So when Kelly and Torbert decided to form a band in 1974, Torbert knew he had a loyal partner. In any case, Kelly's UK work permit apparently expired at the end of 1970, and he would have had to return to the States anyway.

Mountain Current
Matt Kelly's musical activities in 1972 have to be assumed somewhat. I have determined that Kelly's reconnection with Bob Weir took place during the recording of an album by David Rea, produced by Weir, recorded in late 1972. Rea's Slewfoot album will be the next post in this series, but it's clear that Kelly was not really hooked up with the Dead/New Riders crowd until '72. Kelly was thanked on the back of the late '72 New Riders album Gypsy Cowboy, so he was part of that scene from then on. However, while I'm sure Kelly hung with Torbert a bit, he wasn't yet really part of the Riders crowd in 1971.

Back in the Bay Area, former New Delhi River Band, Shango and Horses drummer Chris Herold was coming to the end of his mandated service as a Conscientious Objector. From 1969 through 1971 Herold had driven a hospital truck, so he had only been able to play music on weekends. Herold's primary, and perhaps sole, musical endeavor was to play drums for a band called Mountain Current.

Mountain Current does have a sort of famous or infamous status in the Santa Cruz Mountains from back in the day. They appear to have been a sort of "jam band," in a 60s kind of way. They may have had a somewhat floating membership, too. I have read a few descriptions of their music, and apparently they played danceable, free floating jam music, probably in the Fillmore style of open-ended blues. I don't think Mountain Current played many songs per se, or only used them as jumping off points.

Herold was the drummer in Mountain Current from 1969 through 1971. In the middle of that time, of course, Dave Torbert returned to California and joined the New Riders Of The Purple Sage. By the end of 1970, Mickey Hart stepped down from the drum chair of the New Riders. Whether or not Hart had intended to be a permanent member--probably not--he was apparently becoming increasingly stressed out from having brought his father Lenny in as the Grateful Dead's manager, even if the band themselves forgave him. In December 1970, the New Riders signed up Spencer Dryden as their new drummer, as Spencer had left the Airplane nearly a year earlier. I have to think that Nelson and Torbert would have wanted Herold as a replacement for Mickey Hart in the New Riders, but with Herold's obligation that would have been impossible.

The only other member of Mountain Current that I know was a temporary one, legendary South Bay guitarist Billy Dean Andrus. Andrus was the frontman for the popular San Jose band Weird Herald, fondly remembered by all who saw them (and by those lucky enough to have heard anything from their unreleased album on Onyx). Andrus was some character, however, and at one point around 1970 he was fired from Weird Herald, who temporarily replaced him with old Garcia pal Peter Grant. Andrus played with Mountain Current for about six weeks. Andrus liked to jam, and the suggestion was that he just plugged in and roared with Mountain Current.

How legendary was Billy Dean Andrus? He died in November of 1970, apparently after a wild party, and it hit all his friends hard, particularly those who were musicians. Jorma Kaukonen, one of his closest friends, wrote "Ode To Billy Dean," and Hot Tuna not only started playing the song by the end of that month, they still play it to this day. In 1970, Hot Tuna had played alternate weekends at a club called the Chateau Liberte, and Andrus would often sit in and jam. Hot Tuna had alternated with Hot Tuna at The Chateau with a then-unknown band called The Doobie Brothers. Doobie Brothers' guitarist Pat Simmons also wrote a song for Billy Dean, called "Black Water" ("Oh black water/Keep on rollin''/Mississippi Moon, won't you keep on shining on me"), and it became a worldwide hit that everyone recognizes. Pat Simmons still plays that song, too.

Other than Andrus and Herold, I have not been able to determine any other members of Mountain Current. However, I feel confident that Kelly must have sat in with them at the very least. Mountain Current evolved into a group called Lonesome Janet, led by Kelly and Herold, so it stands to reason that Kelly at least hung out and jammed, not least because Kelly didn't have many other rock music outlets in the Bay Area.

[update: Matthew Kelly himself was kind enough to give me some detail about Mountain Current. The band had a sort of floating membership, but Kelly did indeed perform with them regularly in late 1970. Besides Herold on drums, regular members at that time were singer Sweet John Tomasi, from The New Delhi River Band, electric pianist Mick Ward, "Bob The Bass Player," who may have been Bob Dugan, and Andrus on guitar. Different players came and went, and Kelly regularly played harmonica with them.]

Matt Kelly On The Chitlin Circuit
Gospel Oak ground to a halt in mid-1970, and Matt Kelly was left in London with no gig. Up until recently, Kelly's musical history for the next few years has been very vague. Recently, however, Kelly had a remarkable interview with scholar and dj Jake Feinberg, and Kelly spooled out the rather remarkable story of his career between the end of Gospel Oak and his permanent relocation to the Bay Area in 1973.

When Gospel Oak broke up, Kelly hooked up with New Orleans blues singer Champion Jack Dupree, who had been based in Europe since 1960 for a number of years, who was based in England at the time. Kelly played a few shows with Dupree, and must have hit it off, because Dupree wanted Kelly to come tour Europe with him, but Kelly could not get a work permit. As a result, Kelly returned to California later in 1970.

However, once Kelly returned to California, rather than finding another rock band, Kelly pursued his connection to the blues. He capitalized on the time spent with Mel Brown in Watts, and started working with organist Johnny Carswell, backing traveling blues musicians on the so-called "Chitlin Circuit." The Chitlin Circuit referred to the string of venues in the East, Southeast and Midwest that were wiling to book African-American performers, and more generally to the string of venues that featured black R&B performers throughout the country. By the early 70s, many of the bigger performers on the old circuit, such as B.B. King, were playing white rock venues as well. The circuit definitely tended toward older theaters in traditionally black neighborhoods--The Fillmore Auditorium had been a major stop on the Chitlin Circuit before Bill Graham took it over in 1966--and until then it was still a world removed from the white rock industry.

Carswell, Kelly and their band backed various touring blues musicians, with and without Mel Brown. The most famous of those was guitarist Aaron Thibodeux "T-Bone" Walker. Even this blog does not have enough space for a tangent on T-Bone, but suffice to say he was a fundamental influence on B.B. King, Chuck Berry and Jimi Hendrix, just for starters, so calling him monumental is almost modest. Due to his age and declining health, Walker never really had a chance to play for white audiences in the late 60s, but with his health improving in the early 70s it seemed like he could come back. If he had, Kelly might have gotten some real recognition. Kelly recalled
I ended up playing with T-Bone later on, right up until he passed away, which was really unfortunate because we were just getting ready to go into the studio and do a record. There are some live tapes floating around of stuff I did with T-Bone but they got lost somewhere over the years. If there is a guy out there named Red and you’ve got those tapes…boy I would be forever in your debt!
Kelly has some amazing reminiscences in the Feinberg interview, recalling being backstage with B.B. King, who told him that he owed his whole career to T-Bone Walker, or hearing Bobby "Blue" Bland tell Kelly his life story while killing time, waiting for his band to show up. For a typical suburban musician who had initially learned the blues from records he enjoyed, this was a remarkable opportunity for Kelly to become a part of the music that meant so much to him.

In 1973, it seemed like T-Bone Walker was primed for a comeback, and Kelly was expecting to go record with him down in Los Angeles. Just before that, however, KPFA-fm helped sponsor a big concert at the Berkeley Community Theater in June (1973), which Kelly recalled being dubbed "Night Of The Guitar." Besides great jazz players like Herb Ellis, T-Bone Walker represented the blues along with Shuggie Otis. Kelly and Johnny Carswell had put together a top-flight band to back T-Bone.

By 1973, Kelly's group was called "33," and they also featured local singer Patti Cathcart. My guess is that 33 sometimes just backed players on Bay Area dates, and sometimes they probably went on tour, as well. I'm not sure who else was in the band. In the Feinberg interview, Kelly alluded to "a drummer from the Doobie Brothers" being in 33, but whether that was a then-current (Michael Hossack) or future (Keith Knudsen) Doobie is unclear. Different players must have been in the group at different times, and I think Chris Herold drummed on occasion. Herold's Alternative Service would have been over by 1972, so he would have been more available (other possible members might have been Tom Richards on guitar and Bob Dugan on bass, but I haven't confirmed them).

Kelly described how 33 had worked up a popular rhythm and blues set, and then the star of the show--whether T-Bone Walker or someone else--would come out and do their set. Cathcart, well-known today as half of the duo Tuck And Patti, was probably the main lead singer for 33's set, and provided vocal support for T-Bone or anyone else. On her website, she recalls "my band "33" became T-Bone Walker's backup band in the last years of his life."

Although the "Night Of The Guitar" was apparently a big success, according to Kelly the show was stolen by a young gunslinger named Robben Ford, soon to become quite well-known himself (see here for a picture of Ford with T-Bone and Shuggie Otis at Berkeley in '73). The tide was rising again for T-Bone, and Matt Kelly was looking to rise up with it. Tragically, however, T-Bone Walker became very ill and never performed after the middle of 1973. Walker actually lived a bit longer--I think he died in 1975--but he stopped performing, and Kelly was left with no recordings or even photos of his time on tour with one of the greatest electric guitarists of all time. Still, Kelly probably played with T-Bone the last time he did "Stormy Monday," and that's a great legacy by any standard.

Matt Kelly was thanked by name on the back of the New Riders Of The Purple Sage album Gypsy Cowboy, released in December 1972 on Columbia, so he was definitely hanging with Dave Torbert by then
Back In Rockville
According to Kelly, he had started to cut back on touring the Chitlin Circuit by 1973 in any case. The money would have been less, the theaters would have been more run down, and the old R&B circuit was shrinking. Obviously, a chance to participate in the triumphal return of T-Bone Walker would have been very special, but T-Bone's illness seems to have ended Kelly's run of playing with original bluesmen, for the most part. As a result, the second part of 1973 saw Kelly's return to the Bay Area rock music scene, which he had left back in 1968.

I assume Kelly must have looked up his old friend Dave Torbert when both were in town. Kelly is thanked by name on the back of the New Riders Of The Purple Sage album Gypsy Cowboy, released in December 1972, so we know that they were at least hanging out by the Fall of that year. Kelly would play on the next Riders album, Panama Red, recorded in the Spring of '73, so he was definitely working his way back into the rock scene.  By the end of 1973, Kelly would be in another band, Slewfoot, and on the heels of that a band called Lonesome Janet, both of which would ultimately lead to Kingfish in 1974, but all that will have to wait for the next post.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Richard Greene-violin (career snapshot 1964-1974)

A Dixon Smith photo of Bill Monroe and The Bluegrass Boys performing in 1966. (L-R) Richard Greene, Lamar Grier, Bill Monroe, Peter Rowan, James Monroe.
Violinist Richard Greene is rightly regarded as a giant in American acoustic music of the last few decades. Greene started playing professionally in 1964, and the first decade of his career had some critical intersections with Jerry Garcia. Greene and Garcia had met back in 1964, and in 1973 Greene was invited to join the seminal bluegrass group Old And In The Way. Greene left the group for financial reasons, but the next year he and David Grisman began the Great American String Band. Jerry Garcia was the group's initial banjo player, and that band evolved into the David Grisman Quintet, a seminal ensemble in American acoustic music. Richard Greene isn't usually seen as a major contributor to Jerry Garcia's acoustic music, but he deserves a bigger place than he is usually accorded.

Greene's career has been full of so many recordings and performances that it has been hard to get a handle on it. Greene's role in Old And In The Way is usually glossed over as well, since his place was taken by the great Vassar Clements, and Vassar played on the group's seminal album. However, a recent interview with Richard Greene by scholar and radio personality Jake Feinberg unravels some interesting threads in the Greene story, particularly in his first ten years as a performer. Thus, with accurate information from Greene himself, it's possible to put his career with Old And In The Way and The Great American String Band in its proper context. This post will look at Richard Greene's musical history from 1964 to 1974, with a special emphasis on Greene's musical connections to Jerry Garcia during that time.

In the Feinberg interview, Greene says that he was asked to join Old And In The Way because Jerry Garcia wanted him in the band. Of course, it's most likely that Greene's old pal Peter Rowan recommended him, but Garcia had known Greene back in his bluegrass days. What is intriguing about Richard Greene's early career was not his formidable bluegrass experience, but the fact that an historic stint with Bill Monroe was followed by jug band, jazz and rock groups. In that respect, Greene had more or less replicated Garcia's experience of having been grounded in bluegrass and using that discipline to play a wide variety of music.

Richard Greene On The Jake Feinberg Show
Jake Feinberg, formerly the play-by-play man for the Knoxville Tenneseeans AA baseball team, has a unique show on 1330 KWFN-am in Tucson. Feinberg has weekly interviews with interesting musicians, mostly from the 1960s and 70s. His interviews are up to 2 hours long, and he focuses on the intersection of jazz, rock and world music during that time, particularly in Northern California. Feinberg focuses on the type of musicians who worked with a wide variety of players, often crossing over various genres. The names are not always huge, but they are very familiar to anyone who has spent time looking at the backs of albums--George Duke, Ron McClure, Bob Jones, Emil Richards, Mike Clark, The Jazz Crusaders and Gary Bartz, to name just a few. There are many names that are familiar to Deadheads, too: Howard Wales, Bill Vitt, Melvin Seals, Tony Saunders and Bobby Cochran, for example.

Feinberg has a particular ability to get musicians to talk about their approach to music, and a particular interest in who they played with back in the day. Feinberg's persistence in asking each subject where and with whom they played back in their professional beginnings is invaluable to the likes of me. The Richard Greene interview goes on for nearly two hours (here and here), and is well worth the time to listen to. My quotes from the interview are rather casual transcriptions from my notes.

The Coast Mountain Ramblers (Ken Frankel, Richard Greene and Dave Pollack) at the Ash Grove in 1963
Richard Greene, 1964
The typical thumbnail sketch of Richard Greene has been that he was a classically trained violinist who discovered bluegrass, and his classical training gave him a huge advantage over more casual players.  Greene himself considers the story an exaggeration. According to him, he had taken violin lessons but did not consider himself "trained." Now, I think Greene is being a bit modest--he got so good so fast as a bluegrass player that he was obviously pretty talented, but I take his point that he was no prodigy as a teenager.

Greene discovered bluegrass and old-time fiddle more or less by accident. The guilty party was Ken Frankel. Some readers may recognize the name, as Frankel played bluegrass with Jerry Garcia, David Nelson and others off and on from 1962-1964. The story from Ken Frankel:

Coast Mountain Ramblers - Old Timey Band with Dave Pollack and Richard Greene

I had played music in high school with Dave, who is as good a musician as I have ever met. In 1960 we were undergraduates at Berkeley, and were trying to put together an old-timey group. We put a few notices up looking for a third person, but couldn't find anyone. Richard was an excellent classical violinist from our high school, living in the same place as Dave (the co-op). Out of desperation, we decided to try to teach Richard how to play fiddle. He was a little resistant in the beginning, and made fun of the music. We put a few songs together and played them on a folk radio show (the Midnight Special on KPFA). Much to our surprise, and especially to Richard's surprise, everyone went crazy for us. All of a sudden, Richard was hooked. In the early 1960's, we played on the Midnight Special radio show often, and in small concerts and clubs. In 1963 we won the Ash Grove talent contest, which was a year long event. (Ry Cooder came in second). Our prize was to play for a week at the Ash Grove. We were so successful they held us over for a second week. Shortly after that, Dave and I graduated from Berkeley and went on to other types of endeavors. Richard made fiddle his career, which was a good thing for his many fans.
Feinberg's interview picks up the story in late '63 or so. Greene's breakthrough experience came when he dropped out of college around that time (alluded to in Frankel's story above). Greene had taken a job at a real estate agency. Across the street was The Ash Grove, the legendary folk club at 8162 Melrose Avenue (now The Improv, a comedy club). One day on his lunch break, Greene went over to the Ash Grove. Legendary fiddler Scotty Stoneman was playing for a very few people in the club. Solo fiddle performances are rare, but Stoneman was a rare fiddler indeed. Greene was transfixed hearing Stoneman play what amounted to an endless fiddle solo, hearing the High Lonesome Sound in one of its purest and most imaginative forms.

A Stoneman Family album from the 1960s
Scotty Stoneman had been the fiddler in the Stoneman Family band, and according to Greene he had gotten fired for excessive drinking, and thus was apparently more or less stranded in Los Angeles. Think for a moment how drunk he had to have been to be fired and left behind by his own family? (Although the actual story seems far more complex). Nonetheless, Stoneman was a phenomenal player. According to Greene, he was so transfixed by Stoneman's playing that Greene invited him back to stay at Greene's apartment. Greene effectively took bluegrass fiddle lessons from Stoneman for the next several weeks, although Greene said that the term "lessons" was misleading, since the very un-sober Stoneman just sat around Greene's apartment and played. How influential was Scotty Stoneman's fiddle playing for other musicians? Let Jerry Garcia tell the story (via Blair Jackson's biography)
I get my improvisational approach from Scotty Stoneman, the fiddle player. [He's] the guy who first set me on fire — where I just stood there and I don’t remember breathing. He was just an incredible fiddler. He was a total alcoholic wreck by the time I heard him, in his early thirties, playing with the Kentucky Colonels… They did a medium-tempo fiddle tune like ‘Eighth of January’ and it’s going along, and pretty soon Scotty starts taking these longer and longer phrases — ten bars, fourteen bars, seventeen bars — and the guys in the band are just watching him! They’re barely playing — going ding, ding, ding — while he’s burning. The place was transfixed. They played this tune for like twenty minutes, which is unheard of in bluegrass. I’d never heard anything like it. I asked him later, ‘How do you do that?’ and he said, ‘Man, I just play lonesome.’  
Soon after Greene rescued Stoneman, Stoneman hooked up with Clarence White and the Kentucky Colonels. Garcia was already friends with Clarence and his brothers, so he would have heard Stoneman play many times. Indeed, there is a famous Kentucky Colonels live album recorded in 1964 (Living In The Past, originally released in 1976 on Sierra Records), where Garcia introduces the band during a Palo Alto performance (November 15, 1964 at the Comedia Del'larte Theater on Emerson Street).

The combination of having had fun in college with the Coast Mountain Ramblers and hearing the musical possibilities of bluegrass fiddle from Scotty Stoneman seems to have set Richard Greene on a new musical path. He wasn't interested in college, nor in real estate, but he got serious about bluegrass. Since he was based in Southern California, he played a little with the Pine Valley Boys, a Berkeley bluegrass band who had relocated South. At the time, the Pine Valley Boys included David Nelson on guitar. Greene had probably already met Garcia from his Berkeley days, but if not, he would have likely met him in 1964, through either the Pine Valley Boys or the Kentucky Colonels, as the California bluegrass world was quite tiny[update: Commenter Nick found an interview with Greene which says he met and played with Garcia around 1964].

In the second half of 1964, Greene was also a member of another band, The Dry City Scat Band. Bluegrass bands aren't like rock bands, in that much of the material was and is traditional and shared, so it isn't so hard to be a member of more than one bluegrass band. Also, there isn't much work for bluegrass bands, so conflicts are sadly rare. The Dry City Scat Band had evolved out of a Claremont, CA group called The Mad Mountain Ramblers, whose main gig in 1963-64 had been at the "Mine Train" in Disneyland, dressed in Old West gear (one of the few paying bookings for string bands).

The Mad Mountain Ramblers evolved into The Dry City Scat Band, who played mostly bluegrass with the occasional old-time string band number, a good match for Greene's experience. Dry City featured two other players besides Greene who went on to have substantial careers, namely banjoist David Lindley and mandolinist Chris Darrow, who both went on to have significant professional careers in the Los Angeles studios. Greene's easy transition into the studio scene in the 1970s was probably eased by having played with such established players many years earlier. The Dry City Scat Band mostly just played the Ash Grove, particularly two long runs: June 30-July 19 and September 22-October 11, 1964. Yet out of these thin connections, Greene somehow became a member of the first and most important bluegrass band, Bill Monroe And His Bluegrass Boys.

Bill Monroe And His Bluegrass Boys
Bill Monroe was a popular country singer prior to 1940, often performing as a duo with his brother Charlie. However, late in 1940 he made a conscious effort to create a new style of music, an effort that succeeded completely. At a time when music was moving forward but rural life in the South was changing, Monroe invented bluegrass, a style that had traditional harmonies and acoustic instruments like "old-time" music, but played at a breakneck pace in a sophisticated style, like be-bop. Bluegrass became a popular style, appealing particularly to people from the Appalachians who had relocated to big cities for factory work.

There were many other bluegrass bands besides the Bluegrass Boys, but Bill Monroe was the godfather. He also became a regular performer on the Grand Ole Opry. However, by the late 1950s, while Monroe remained a country music legend, he was no longer a popular artist on the radio, and he was reduced to being able to tour only by using a pickup band of local musicians. They would know his material--it was famous--but they wouldn't be rehearsed and they weren't his band. What saved Bill Monroe and bluegrass was the folk revival. Young kids in the suburbs, like David Grisman (Hackensack, NJ) and Jerry Garcia (Menlo Park, CA) went from hearing Joan Baez and the Kingston Trio to hearing bluegrass, and they were hooked. Monroe's star rose again, and he started having a regular band, tight and rehearsed in his trademark High Lonesome sound.

By the early 1960s, thanks to the folk revival, a new breed of suburban teenager had gotten interested in Bill Monroe and bluegrass, and Monroe had started playing for suburban "folk" audiences as well as his traditional Southern fans. In 1962, Monroe had his first "Northern" band member. Bill Keith was a banjo player from Amherst, MA, and had initially learned bluegrass from records. Keith was a phenomenal, revolutionary, banjo player, however, and a huge influence on the likes of Jerry Garcia. No small part of Keith's impact on the likes of Garcia was the fact that he had come from a suburban college town, just like Garcia had.

The cover of Bill Monroe's 1967 MCA album Bluegrass Time, when Richard Greene and Peter Rowan were members of the Bluegrass Boys
Bill Monroe And The Bluegrass Boys, 1964-1967
Although Monroe had a more fluid approach to bands than some performers, since his arrangements were fairly fixed, he still generally had a core band that he worked with. From the end of 1964 until the middle of 1967, Monroe had a quintet that was largely "Northern" save for himself and his son
Bill Monroe-mandolin
Peter Rowan-guitar [Wayland, MA]
Richard Greene-fiddle [Los Angeles, CA]
Lamar Grier-banjo [suburban Maryland]
James Monroe-bass
Peter Rowan had been a folk musician in the Martha's Vineyard area in Massachusetts, but he too had discovered bluegrass. Rowan is well-known to Deadheads, of course, but Rowan and Greene started playing together in late '64 in the Bluegrass Boys. I am not sure how Greene got hooked up with Monroe. It is interesting that the Summer of '64 is when Jerry Garcia and Sandy Rothman made their pilgrimage to the bluegrass festival in Brown County, IN, in the hopes of getting into Monroe's band. Garcia supposedly hovered around Monroe, waiting for an opportunity to meet him, in the hopes of becoming his banjo player, but no such opportunity arose. Ironically, some months later Rothman ended up in Monroe's band for a few weeks. Had either of them stuck around, they might have connected with Rowan and Greene in the Bluegrass Boys lineup that was to follow.

The Rowan/Greene/Grier configuration of the Bluegrass Boys worked on one contemporary album, Bluegrass Time, released on Decca Records in 1967, after Greene and Rowan had left the band. Greene and Rowan also appear on a few tracks on some archival live material. Rowan jumped ship to form a rock band called Earth Opera in Cambridge, MA with another young, suburban bluegrasser from Hackensack, NJ, mandolinist David Grisman. (This topic will be the subject of another post entirely). Richard Greene, meanwhile, seems to have stayed on the East Coast, eager to expand his musical horizons.

The August, 1967 Reprise album Garden Of Joy, by The Jim Kweskin Jug Band. Richard Greene had joined the Cambridge, MA based group by the end of the band's tenure.
Jim Kweskin Jug Band
The Jim Kweskin Jug Band had been a popular act on Vanguard Records since 1963. In fact, Garcia and others had gone to see the Kweskin band in Berkeley (at the Cabale on March 11, 1964), since they had already formed a jug band, and the Kweskin crew were the leading practitioners. By 1967, the Kweskin Jug Band had been through a number of personnel changes, but while sounding a bit outdated they were still a draw. They were based in Cambridge, MA, and Greene and banjoist Bill Keith played on their final album, Garden Of Joy, released on Reprise in August of 1967. Geoff and Maria Muldaur were the singers (joined by Kweskin on guitar and Fritz Richmond on bass). The disintegration of the Kweskin band is too strange to discuss here (google "Mel Lyman"), but suffice to say Greene and the others had to move on.

The back cover of Planned Obsolecsence by The Blues Project, originally released on Verve in 1968 (this is actually the cd released on One Way in 1996)
The Blues Project, 1968
The Blues Project had been founded in Greenwich Village in 1965, and they had been a seminal band on the early psychedelic circuit. The Blues Project had shown that a bunch of white suburban guys could play funky blues in an imaginative way. They put out some great albums on Verve Records and were influential everywhere they played, not least in San Francisco. When the group had disintegrated in mid-1967, organist Al Kooper and guitarist Steve Katz had gone on to form Blood, Sweat and Tears, who had become hugely successful. Kooper had then in turn split from BS&T, but he had gone on to fame as a producer and performer in his own right, so the Blues Project name definitely had some hip cred.

Two members of the Blues Project, bassist Andy Kulberg (b.1944-d.2002) and drummer Roy Blumenfield, had moved to the Bay Area by early '68. They formed a new band, and they called themselves The Blues Project, presumably because it helped them get gigs. The other members of the group were guitarist John Gregory and saxophonist Don Kretmar, both San Francisco musicians. However, Kulberg and Blumenfield seemed to have realized that trying to live up to the first Blues Project was never going to be a winning proposition, and they evolved into a band called Seatrain. Richard Greene, no doubt friends with Kulberg and Blumenfield from the East Coast folk scene, returned to California to join the group.

However, it appeared that the former members of the Blues Project still owed an album to Verve, so they couldn't record as Seatrain. Thus the members of Seatrain, including Greene, made an album called Planned Obsolescence, credited to the Blues Project, which was released on Verve in 1968. The same band members then recorded the first Seatrain album for A&M, which was released later in 1968. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the Planned Obsolescence album had little to do with the original Blues Project, and that only the most trivial material was used for the album. Such was the 60s. It was hardly the strangest thing in the recording history of the Blues Project, who would go on to reform and release various albums over the years.

A Berkeley Barb ad from February 14, 1969 for Berkeley's Freight And Salvage. High Country was booked for Thursday February 20. Richard Greene may have played with the band (David Nelson definitely did).
High Country, 1969
Greene had returned to California in 1968, apparently to play in an electric rock band in Marin County. Nonetheless, he found some time to play a little bluegrass on the side, while still playing with Seatrain. Thus Greene was a sort of adjunct member of a Berkeley bluegrass band in early '69. Butch Waller, formerly of the Pine Valley Boys, had returned to the North and he had formed High Country in 1968, initially as a duo. Their home base was Berkeley's Freight And Salvage. Various members came and went throughout 1969. When Greene did play with High Country, he often played with David Nelson, another old pal of Waller's (I have addressed this murky subject elsewhere).

The first Seatrain album, released on A&M Records in 1969
Seatrain, 1969
Sometime in early 1969--or possibly in late 1968--A&M Records released the first Seatrain album, called Seatrain, according to the practices of the time. Seatrain included all the five players who had been on the Planned Obsolescence album (Gregory, Kretmar, Greene, Kulberg and Blumenfield). However, lyricist Jim Roberts, Kulberg's songwriting partner, was also listed as a full member. The album wasn't bad, and a lot of care had been taken in the writing and recording of the songs, but the first Seatrain album had a sort of stiff, baroque feel. It appears that in the Spring of '69, Seatrain relocated again, this time from Marin County to Cambridge, MA. 

The 1969 Gary Burton lp Throb, on Atlantic Records, with Richard Greene guest starring on electric violin
Throb-Gary Burton
When Seatrain relocated, it gave Richard Greene a chance to play some real jazz with Gary Burton. Gary Burton is too fascinating a tangent to go into here, but--just to give you a taste--Burton was a groundbreaking vibraphonist who grew up in Nashville, TN, enjoying country and rock along with jazz. The first Gary Burton Quartet, with Larry Coryell on electric guitar, formed in New York in 1967, was a crucially important jazz-rock fusion band. The Quartet could play the Fillmore as well as the Village Vanguard, and shined in both places.

By 1969, Jerry Hahn had taken over the guitar role from Coryell, but the Gary Burton Quartet was still a great band. Greene played amplified violin with them on occasion. When Gary Burton recorded an album at the Newport Jazz Festival on July 20, 1969, in Newport, RI, Greene sat in. As a result, Greene appeared on the album Throb, along with Burton, Hahn, Bob Moses (drums) and Steve Swallow (bass). It's a terrific album, but it has never been released on cd, so it is hard to hear [update: a commenter tells me Throb was released as extra tracks on the Keith Jarrett/Gary Burton cd]. In any case, Seatrain went on tour right after the festival, and Hahn left the group, so although Burton continued (and continues) to have a stellar jazz career, the jazz side of Greene's violin career was left by the wayside.

The second Seatrain album (1970), but the first on Capitol, also called Seatrain, like the one on A&M. Peter Rowan had joined up with old bandmate Richard Greene for this one.
Peter Rowan and Seatrain, 1969-70
When Seatrain returned to the East Coast, they underwent a variety of personnel changes, not all of which I am certain of (and in any case too tangential even for this post). However, the principal change was that Peter Rowan joined the group on guitar and vocals, replacing John Gregory. With Rowan and new keyboard player Lloyd Baskin joining Greene, Kulberg and a drummer, Seatrain's sound became less baroque and more soulful country. However, as an East Coast band, they did not fall into the country rock bag of the Flying Burrito Brothers and The Grateful Dead, even if they shared some musical roots.

Richard Greene and Peter "Panama Red" Rowan at the Freight And Salvage on February 18, 1970
Panama Red with Richard Greene
It seems that Seatrain returned to Marin County for the Fall of 1969 and the Winter of 1970. Besides regular rock gigs, however, some of the members of Seatrain played some bluegrass shows at the Freight And Salvage with various Berkeley musicians. In February, March and April 1970, Peter Rowan and Richard Greene played three shows at the Freight under the billing "Panama Red and Richard Greene." The ad for one month actually indicated that Rowan was 'Panama Red', so it wasn't particularly a secret. Nonetheless, it is very interesting to see that the Rowan's Panama Red persona was in place as early as 1970, even if it seems that the song was probably not written until later.

I would love to know what songs Rowan and Greene did as a duo, and what it sounded like. I assume it was a forum for Rowan's own songs and some choice covers, but it would be intriguing indeed if a tape or even a setlist turned up.

The 1971 Capitol album Marblehead Messenger, by Seatrain
Seatrain, 1970-71
After April 1970, there were no more weeknight bluegrass gigs at the Freight for any members of Seatrain. All signs point to the band having relocated the East Coast again. Capitol laid it on pretty thick, a clear sign that the company had high hopes for the band. The 70-71 lineup was the "classic" lineup of Seatrain that everyone remembers:
Peter Rowan-guitar, vocals
Richard Greene-electric violin
Lloyd Baskin-keyboards, vocals
Andy Kulberg-bass, flute, vocals
Larry Autamanik-drums
Jim Roberts-lyrics
Seatrain carved out an interesting niche. They sang in a country rock style, with a little bit of R&B overtones. Yet they had no lead guitarist, so most of the lead lines were played by Greene on the electric violin. With his classical training, bluegrass chops and jazz experience, Greene was uniquely positioned to be a lead player, even if he played "lead violin" rather than lead guitar.

In the Feinberg interview, Greened describes himself as having been heavily influenced by Jimi Hendrix. He used a wah-wah pedal on stage, probably one of, if not the, first electric violinists to do so. In that respect, Greene followed something like Garcia' arc, taking the music and discipline he learned from bluegrass, electrifying it, and playing at high volume in a rock band. Greene describes himself as "the first electric violinist" in rock. That isn't quite true (I think a guy named Eddie Drennon was first, who played in Bo Diddley's band, and members of the group Kaleidoscope also played electric violin from 1966 onwards), but it's certainly true that Greene was playing electric violin with no road map, and was blazing new trails as he did so.

Seatrain recorded two albums for Capitol in 1970 and 1971, Seatrain and Marblehead Messenger. Both were recorded in London with George Martin. The first Seatrain album on Capitol, released in 1970--rather unfathomably also called Seatrain, just like the '69 A&M album--was the first album George Martin had produced since The Beatles. Capitol would not have sent Seatrain to London to record with Martin if they had not rated them highly.

There is some nice material on the two Capitol albums, and they are very well recorded, but the albums are not exceptional. Seatrain has a nice cover of Lowell George's "Willin'," and Marblehead Messenger has a nice version of Rowan's "Mississippi Moon," but there were no classic FM tracks. Some live Seatrain tapes circulate, on Wolfgang's Vault and elsewhere, and Greene's unique role as lead violinist is well represented. Seatrain opened for a lot of famous bands, at the Fillmore East and elsewhere, and seems to have acquitted themselves well. Greene and Rowan did not lose touch with their bluegrass roots, as their typical show closer was a rocking version of "Orange Blossom Special."

By mid-72 or so, however, Seatrain seemed to have kind of run its course. A fourth Seatrain album, Watch, was released by Capitol in 1973, but it seemed to be made up of old tracks. Rowan played on a few of them, and Greene co-wrote one song, but the album was an afterthought. Rowan, with few options on the table, moved to Marin County, where his brothers were making a record with David Grisman and Richard Loren. Richard Greene appears to have returned to Southern California.

A 1998 cd of the original live broadcast of the impromptu bluegrass group that became known as "Muleskinner."
"Muleskinner" 1972-1973
On February 13, 1973, a KCET-TV program was scheduled to feature Bill Monroe and The Bluegrass Boys. The hour long program planned to feature a live half-hour of Monroe, with an opening live "tribute" set by younger musicians. The group assembled became the basis of what is now known as the "Muleskinner" group (because of the 1974 album), but they didn't actually use the name Muleskinner. As it happened, Monroe's bus broke down in Stockton, and the openers played the entire hour instead. The band for this show was
  • Peter Rowan-guitar, vocals
  • Clarence White-lead guitar
  • David Grisman-mandolin, vocals
  • Richard Greene-violin
  • Bill Keith-banjo
  • Stuart Schulman-bass
Its important to recognize that the musicians went to great lengths to perform at this show. Clarence White was a member of The Byrds at this time, and according to Christopher Hjort's definitive chronology (So You Want To Be A Rock And Roll Star, Jawbone 2008), The Byrds were at Cornell University on February 10 and Rockland Community College in Suffern, NY on February 16. so  White had to log some serious air miles to make the broadcast. Grisman and Rowan lived in Northern California, as probably did Greene, and they would have had to drive down. Keith usually lived on the East Coast, so he most likely had to make a special effort as well. Its a sign of how much respect they had for Bill Monroe and each other that they all made that effort.

The impromptu performance was so satisfying that the musicians played a week at The Ash Grove (March 17-22), the very same club where Greene had first heard Scotty Stoneman. They also made plans to record an album. According to Greene (in the Feinberg interview), the plan was that this ensemble would co-exist with Old And In The Way. An album was recorded, with the idea that it would be a sort of rock-bluegrass hybrid, and John Kahn played bass, with John Guerin on drums. The album Muleskinner-A Potpourri Of Bluegrass Jam was released in 1974, but after Clarence White's death on July 29, 1973, any serious plans for the group were dropped.

Part of the March, 1973 Keystone Berkeley calendar, showing Old And In The Way playing March 12 and 13.
Old And In The Way, 1973
I have also written at length about the genesis of Old And In The Way and Muleskinner, so I won't recap it all. Suffice to say, Jerry Garcia was living at the top of the hill in Stinson Beach, and David Grisman and Peter Rowan were living at the bottom of the hill, and they started to play bluegrass together. Garcia got his long-dormant banjo chops together, John Kahn was added on bass, and in March of 1973 the quartet started playing some bluegrass gigs at rock clubs (and possibly at some tiny place in Stinson Beach). There is a whiff that John Hartford was tried out as a member, but he played few, if any shows, possibly only working on a still-unreleased recording, but I have to assume Hartford's schedule did not allow him to be a member of a part-time band.

Greene's first performance as a member of Old And In The Way was on April 12, 1973, at the Granada Theater in Santa Barbara. Greene went on to play fiddle at most, though not all, of the Old And In The Way shows for April and May. At the time, the band was just a curiousity: Garcia had surprised the rock world by playing as a sideman in the New Riders Of The Purple Sage on a secondary instrument (pedal steel guitar), and here he was doing it again on yet another instrument. Very few California rock fans even knew what bluegrass was. FM broadcasts of Old And In The Way were often the first bluegrass fans that many rock fans had ever heard.

Old And In The Way helped re-invigorate bluegrass in many ways. The most important way, of course, was the fact that Jerry Garcia's presence caused people to actually listen to it. Peter Rowan's original songs made bluegrass sound contemporary, instead of like a museum piece. Finally, unlike most typical bluegrass bands, Old And In The Way had relatively lengthy instrumental breaks that flirted with jazz. This was directly modeled on the style of Scotty Stoneman. Stoneman had influenced Garcia's guitar playing, and now Garcia had a bluegrass band with a fiddler who had actually taken lessons--of a sort--from Stoneman himself.

The free-flowing style of Old And In The Way owed a lot to Richard Greene. Ironically enough, when Greene had to leave the band, Greene was replaced by the even more incredible Vassar Clements, himself a true legend. Clements took flight in Old And In The Way's format, and the other musicians in the band all thought that Vassar was the best soloist in the band. Greene had established the template, however, and it was the critical need to replace him with someone good that caused the band to seek out Clements.

Loggins And Messina, 1973-76
Why did Richard Greene leave Old And In The Way? He was playing great music with friends, and he was able to merge bluegrass with jazz, and the band was rising in popularity. Greene explained the answer in the Feinberg interview: he got offered serious money to go on tour with Loggins And Messina. Old And In The Way gigs paid a little bit, by bluegrass standards, but they were only going to play occasional shows around the Grateful Dead and Garcia/Saunders touring schedule. Old And In The Way wasn't really going to pay Greene's way, and Loggins And Messina would.

Jim Messina had originally been Kenny Loggins' producer, but their initial collaboration went so well that they became a duo. By 1973, they had hit singles and were becoming hugely popular. Loggins And Messina would go on to sell something like 15 million albums in six years. Loggins And Messina were a pop group, but a very musical one. One of the cornerstones of their success was a country music sensibility without all the twangs and songs about trains. They already had a fiddle player in the band, Al Garth, but he also played saxophone and flute. By bringing in Richard Greene, it allowed Loggins And Messina to have a sort of Western Swing sound on stage, with either twin fiddles or fiddle and saxophone.

Interestingly, Greene's connection to Loggins And Messina was through Seatrain. Seatrain had played a number of shows with Poco, back in 1970 when Jim Messina was their lead guitarist. Although apparently they hardly spoke at the time, Messina was definitely listening, and when they needed a versatile violinist, Greene got the call.

According to Greene, Loggins And Messina made so much money touring, they traveled in not one but two jets. One was for Loggins and Messina, and the other was for the band. Obviously, Greene was getting a pretty good wage besides. Greene toured with Loggins And Messina for three years, until the duo finally broke up in 1976, while they were both still friends. Greene may not have played on every tour, but I think he played on most of them. He appears on some tracks on the 'posthumous' Loggins And Messina live album, Finale, releases in 1977. (Unfortunately, as far as I know, Loggins and Messina never did the slow version of "Friend Of The Devil" after '72, so Greene never got to play it).

An ad from the Sunday, May 5, 1974 Oakland Tribune, listing the Great American String Band's upcoming performance at the Keystone Berkeley that night
Great American String Band, 1974
In 1974, although Greene was making his living by touring with Loggins And Messina, he still had time for other music when they were off the road. David Grisman had precipitated the end of Old And In The Way because he wanted to go in a different direction than Peter Rowan. I'm not sure that Greene and Grisman had really played together prior to the 'Muleskinner' show in February 1973, and then Old And In The Way a few months later. Certainly, most of the younger bluegrass players all knew each other, so Greene and Grisman had surely picked a little, but they hadn't been in a band with each other.

By March of 1974, Grisman and Greene had hatched a new band, called The Great American String Band. It was initially based at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall. The goal of the Great American String Band was to play all American music on acoustic instruments. Not just bluegrass, but jazz, folk, blues, swing and pretty much anything else, sometimes all at once. This was a pretty audacious goal, but the remarkable thing about the band was that it ultimately succeeded, and in so doing helped revolutionize American music. Whether you read about "New Acoustic" music, or see a couple of guys in a pizza parlor doing a swinging version of a blues song on mandolin and guitar, that can be traced back directly to the Great American String Band.

The Great American String Band debuted at the Great American Music Hall on March 9-10, 1974. The first night's lineup was Grisman, Greene, David Nichtern on guitar and Buell Niedlinger on bass. For the second night, Jerry Garcia joined them on banjo. Although there were some occasional adjustments to the lineup, Garcia and Greene were in the GASB  through June of 1974. Garcia stopped playing with them after June, mainly due to having too many other commitments. Greene and Grisman continued to play in the GASB through the Fall of '74 (the band was sometimes billed as The Great American Music Band).

However, the Great American String Band ultimately stopped playing, I believe because Greene had too many commitments with Loggins And Messina. The Great American String Band evolved into the David Grisman Quintet, and it was the DGQ that really opened everyone's ears to the possibilities of acoustic music. It did not hurt that the Old And In The Way album was released in February 1975--a mere 16 months after it was recorded--and David Grisman's name became better known in Deadhead circles.

If Richard Greene had been on the Old And In The Way album, it would have been his name that was associated with progressive bluegrass fiddle and the Grateful Dead. If he had stuck with the Great American String Band, then the David Grisman Quintet (under whatever name) would have had two former members of OAITW. Whether that would have been good and bad would be impossible to say, but the fact was that Greene had to make a living, and making Loggins And Messina swing a little on stage was a pretty musical way to make a living, if hardly revolutionary.

Richard Greene's presence in Old And In The Way was not accidental, even if it was only for six weeks or so. Greene represented a straight line from Scotty Stoneman, and he had played with Bill Monroe, so his bluegrass pedigree was all that Jerry Garcia could ask for. And yet in the years before Old And In The Way, Greene had played old-time music, in a jug band, electric jazz and high volume rock and roll.  In that respect, Greene came back to bluegrass in a very similar way that Jerry Garcia did, proud of the tradition and steeped in it, yet eager to enrich it with other kinds of music. Greene's breadth was essential to the foundation of The Great American String Band as well, and yet he departed both seminal groups long before they became famous.

Happily, many years later, the music world has caught up with Richard Greene and he is rightly revered as a master of violin and fiddle, crossing boundaries in a wide variety of ensembles. He may not be using a wah-wah pedal any more, but Greene's wide tastes inform his music in a variety of powerful ways. His presence in Old And In The Way and The Great American String Band was no accident, even though it took several more years for everyone to catch up with what Jerry Garcia and David Grisman already knew.

Richard Greene Discography 1967-76
[this discography is limited to bands where Richard Greene was a member]
Bluegrass Time-Bill Monroe (Decca Spring '67)
Garden Of Joy-Jim Kweskin Jug Band (Reprise August '67)
Planned Obsolescence-Blues Project (Verve 1968)
Seatrain (A&M 1969)
Throb-Gary Burton (1969)
Seatrain (Capitol 1970)
Marblehead Messenger (Capitol 1971)
A Potpourri Of Bluegrass Jam-Muleskinner (Sierra 1974, recorded 1973)
Old And In The Way (Round 1975,  recorded Oct 8 '73)
Finale-Loggins And Messina (Columbia 1977, recorded live mid-70s)
Muleskinner Live: Original Television Soundtrack (Micro Werks 1998, recorded Feb 13 '73)
[For a more complete discography of Greene's work, including many of his session appearances, see the page on his own site]