Friday, April 29, 2011

Howard Roberts, Jerry Garcia and "The Twilight Zone"

Guitarist and author Howard Roberts
Howard Roberts (1929-92) was a guitarist who moved from Phoenix, AZ to Los Angeles in 1950. He rapidly became one of a handful of "first call" session guitarists, a musical genius who could play any style brilliantly as quick as you could count to four. He played on literally thousands of recording dates, for jazz and pop records, commercials and movie and TV soundtracks. He was mostly known only to Hollywood studio professionals and other guitarists, but his lasting claim to fame was that he was the one who played the "neener-neener" notes that made up the legendary theme to "The Twilight Zone" TV show. This famous guitar part was re-recorded by Jerry Garcia in 1985, when old friend Merl Saunders became the musical director for the revived television show.

Howard Roberts' 1978 instruction book Super Chops
Although to my knowledge Garcia and Roberts never met--sad to say--there is a much more significant musical connection between the two that goes way beyond the fact that Garcia redid Roberts' most famous lick.  Roberts moved from studio recording to focusing on training musicians, and starting in 1970 Roberts published a number of guitar instruction books. Jerry Garcia was already an accomplished guitarist by this time, but in various interviews he cited Roberts' books as one of his chief source of instructions. It is a remarkable testament to both Roberts' ability as a guitarist and clarity as an educator that he could write a book that improved Jerry Garcia's guitar playing throughout the 70s.

As a result, I have always been interested in Roberts' guitar playing from the perspective of Jerry Garcia's playing. There are some remarkable parallels, but they are some steps removed, since Roberts' best playing was done live in Hollywood in the late 60s, not released until the 90s, and there is almost no chance that Garcia ever heard him perform. Nonetheless, for Jerry Garcia fans, knowing that Garcia took instruction from Roberts via his books means that many of the concepts in Roberts playing would have transmuted themselves to Garcia, so comparisons between the playing of Roberts and Garcia are not at all a dry academic exercise.

Howard Roberts' 1963 Capitol album Color Him Funky
Color Him Funky and HR Is A Dirty Guitar Player
Although Howard Roberts had a varied career as a bandleader, dating back to the mid-50s, his best known albums were the first two that he released on Capitol Records in 1963. Color Him Funky was a conscious effort by producer Jack Marshall to frame Roberts' awesome chops in a commercially viable format. Playing in a quartet that featured organist Paul Bryant, bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Earl Palmer, Color Him Funky had 12 short, melodic tunes with a danceable beat. The music was very accessible, but the solos were absolutely scorching, even though the backing band stayed in the pocket the whole time. Roberts did not use techniques like distortion or feedback, as the world was not ready for them yet, but for Garcia fans, listening to the Roberts quartet was like hearing the Jerry Garcia/Merl Saunders band on triple speed. HR Is A Dirty Guitar Player, released a few months later (with Burkley Kendrix taking over on organ), had music in a similar vein.

Garcia would have discovered Roberts' books in the early 70s, and must have looked backwards at his albums. Roberts did release a studio album in 1971, the strange concept album Antelope Freeway, but I'm sure Garcia was steered back to Roberts first two 1963 albums on Capitol. For one thing, a player of Garcia's caliber would not have been interested in instruction from a musician who was already inferior to his own playing, but despite the simplistic setting, Color Him Funky and HR Is A Dirty Guitar Player are guitar extravaganzas that must have indicated to Garcia that Roberts' advice was well worth taking. Roberts released a few more albums in the same vein in the later 60s (Goodies, Something's Cookin', and so on) but the first two were the best.

Howard Roberts Live
Howard Roberts rarely played live outside of the Los Angeles area, to my knowledge. I know he played a Nob Hill hotel in 1967 (I think the Venetian Room at the Fairmont) in 1967 with trombonist Frank Rosolino, but I haven't been able to track the exact date. In any case, I find it unlikely that Garcia saw him. Even if Garcia knew the name--he might have--Roberts had not yet started writing guitar instruction books. In any case, although I think that Garcia would have been perfectly willing to put on a suit and tie to see a musician he was interested in, I don't think he could have afforded the cover charge at the Fairmont back in 1967. As a result, I have to assume that Garcia never saw Howard Roberts live, and more's the pity for that.

Howard Roberts And The Magic Band, Live At Donte's, North Hollywood
Jazz musicians are legendary for focusing themselves on endless practice and theorizing to create the most challenging music imaginable; in return, they usually dismay or distress any potential audience other than their fellow musicians, leading to lives of bitter penury in cold water New York walkups, ameliorated only by booze, junk, cigarettes and the solace of knowing that you are ahead of your time. There were many great jazz musicians in Los Angeles in the 60s, but the best of them lived a very different life.

The recording industry was so remunerative back in the day that Southern California's best jazz musicians spent all day in the studios, recording for pop and rock records, movie soundtracks and TV commercials, among many other projects. Since all self-respecting jazzmen can read music and play brilliantly on command, their talents were much in demand, as long as they could show up to work on time. They could make as much money as they wanted, and then return home to happy suburban lives in Glendale or Silver Lake-no cold water walkup on 128th and Lexington for them. Jazz? They played as much as they wanted, usually on weeknights (assuming their wives were OK with it), in tiny clubs for their hipster jazz musician friends.

The 1960s LA jazz scene was full of obscure musician's projects where players played for each other, and often this music rarely saw the light of day. A jazz club in North Hollywood called Donte's was one such hangout, where Los Angeles's best studio musicians met for jazz dates, just to prove they were still real players, after a day of playing some variation of "Last Train To Clarksville." Fortunately, an avid jazz fan had the foresight to record some of these dates, and as a result some remarkable recordings have been preserved of Howard Roberts in his prime in 1968. Two cds worth of material were released in the late 90s, and Jerry Garcia fans should indeed take note: many of the characteristics of Garcia's guitar playing can be heard in Howard Roberts playing, giving an indication of just how much Garcia may have been getting from Roberts' books some years later.

Howard Roberts recorded live in July 1968, released 1995
Howard Roberts: The Magic Band Live At Donte's
released 1995, VSOP Records #94 recorded July 1968
  • Howard Roberts-guitar
  • Tom Scott-alto, tenor and soprano sax
  • Steve Bohannon-Hammond organ
  • Chuck Berghofer-bass
  • John Guerin-drums
Although the setting is distinctly jazzy, the guitar playing is reminiscent of the Hooteroll? album with Howard Wales, and particularly the Garcia/Wales album Side Trips (recorded May 18, 1970 at the Matrix). Organist Steve Bohannon was mainly known as a drummer, and an amazing one at that, for the remarkable Don Ellis Orchestra (another LA jazz musician project), but it turns out he was a driving and versatile Hammond player as well. Then 20-year old Tom Scott was already a session pro, and here plays much more outside than he would in his commercial work in the 70s (including his solo on the studio version of "Estimated Prophet"). The group works out on five jazz standards, and Howard Roberts is somehow both dominant and restrained at the same time.

Howard Roberts recorded live in May 1968, released 1998
Howard Roberts: The Magic Band II
released 1998, VSOP Records #102 recorded May 1968
  • Howard Roberts-guitar
  • Dave Grusin-piano
  • Chuck Berghofer-bass
  • John Guerin-drums
  • with Tom Scott (ts), John Gross (ts), Pete Christlieb (ts), one track each.
A somewhat earlier date, with Grusin's piano instead of Bohannon's organ. I had heard Grusin many time on movie soundtracks and 70s "funky jazz" albums, and found his playing unmemorable. At Donte's, he sounds like Horace Silver on LSD and he's absolutely brilliant. As a Deadhead, much of the music reminds me of the middle section of a wild 1973 "Playing In The Band," with Howard Roberts sometimes sounding like Garcia, sometimes Bob Weir, and sometimes both at once. Roberts bends notes, but he doesn't emphasize the electronics of the guitar, yet it's clear that his approach to jazz guitar had a huge influence on Garcia, even if it was mediated through his books.

Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda
Howard Roberts and his studio jazz pals had no economic incentive to take their music beyond their local jazz clubs, so its all but impossible that Garcia ever heard Roberts play live. Its remarkable as a listener, however, to hear many of the elements in Garcia's 70s playing embedded in Howard Roberts' 60s music, knowing that Roberts would transmit his concepts to Garcia through his books. Roberts went on to found the Guitar Institute of Technology in 1977, which subsequently became the Music Institute, and remains a thriving musical education enterprise to this day. By the 1980s, Roberts had largely retired from performing, and he moved to Edmonds, WA. He died in 1992.

Since "The Twilight Zone" was Howard Roberts' most iconic lick, he must have known that Jerry Garcia had re-recorded it in 1985. I am not aware of what Roberts may have thought about it, although I would really like to know. I have no idea if Roberts was aware that Garcia had used his book--so many serious players admired Roberts that he may have stopped counting. Listening to Howard Roberts in his band in 1968 in Hollywood reminds me more of many aspects of Garcia's playing than it does of most rock guitarists, which to me is a sign of Roberts indirect but very real influence on Jerry's 70s playing.

from Howard Roberts: A Brief Biography by Wolf Marshall
In the sixties Howard was one of the busiest recording artists in the world. He signed a new record deal as a leader with Capitol Records and released an excellent and ecelectic series of albums for the giant label. Landmark recordings of the catalog include Color Him Funky, H.R. is a Dirty Guitar Player, Somethings Cookin', Whatever's Fair, Jaunty Jolly, and Goodies. His work featured solid bebop playing on standards and show tunes, blues, gospel, funk, and even rock and pop numbers. As such Howard Roberts was the prototype fusion guitarist. Who else but Howard could make a pop throwaway like "Winchester Cathedral" swing as hard as anything played by Wes Montgomery or Joe Pass? In the studio Roberts became one of the most listened-to guitarists in contemporary music, lending his unique and musical touch to movie soundtracks and TV shows like The Twilight Zone, The Munsters, I Dream Of Jeanie, and The Beverly Hillbillies. He also recorded with Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, Sammy Davis Jr., the Beach Boys, Merle Travis, Nat King Cole, Little Richard, Ella Fitzgerald, Sonny and Cher, the Jackson Five, Rick Nelson, the Supremes, and literally countless other stellar performers on hundreds of session dates. He earned the title of "the fifth Monkee," as he played on virtually everything the group recorded in the 1960s. At that time Howard designed the Epiphone Roberts model guitar and formed the Benson amplifier company. He epitomized the persona of the guitar virtuoso/studio whiz which established the pattern followed by Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour, Steve Lukather and many others in the ensuing decades. That of living legend, a hot player burning up the studios by day and bringing down the house in jazz clubs by night. Some of this legendary playing thankfully has been captured, preserved and released on CD by V.S.O.P. Records in the Howard Roberts "Magic Band" live sessions from Donte's.

In 1970 Howard became more deeply involved with education. He founded Playback Music Publishing Company to upgrade the state of contemporary guitar literature. Amidst his hectic playing schedule he wrote an innovative series of instruction books such as The Howard Roberts Guitar Book,  Chord Melody, Sight Reading, Super Solos, Super Chops, and Instant Blues. Out of this series grew the Howard Roberts Guitar Seminars of the 1970s and eventually G.I.T. (Guitar Institute of Technology), the world's first vocational school for guitar, now known worldwide as M.I. or Musician's Institute. The material Howard developed in his books and seminars was the basis for the core curriulum at the institute.

Friday, April 22, 2011

On Tour, 1986: David Nelson and Bob Dylan

An ad for the Grateful Dead/Bob Dylan/Tom Petty show at RFK Stadium on July 6, 1986
David Nelson was one of Jerry Garcia's oldest friends, and an important part of Garcia's personal and musical history, dating back to long before the Grateful Dead. Nelson has been an important part of the Grateful Dead family from way back. Yet after he left the New Riders Of The Purple Sage in 1982, Nelson largely dropped out of musical sight. Every once in a while he would pop up, playing with some band or other, like Bill Kreutzmann's All-Stars, but these all seemed to be part-time ensembles. He did not resurface into most Deadheads' consciousness until he and Sandy Rothman re-activated their musical partnership with Jerry in the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band.

The Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band got an informal start at a party on November 23, 1986, and played its first performance at the Fillmore on March 18, 1987, adding John Kahn on bass. The band expanded somewhat, adding a drummer (David Kemper) and then a fiddler (Kenny Kosek), and played a number of excellent shows with the Jerry Garcia Band, most famously at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater on Broadway in New York City. Nelson's timely re-appearance recharged Garcia's interest in old time folk music, and Garcia and his fans were all the better for it. Still, the timeline begs a curious question: what was David Nelson doing between 1982 and 1986? Or, to ask the question another way, was David Nelson doing anything interesting between 1982 and 1986? The answer turns out to be a decided yes.

Steve Silbermann's liner notes for the 2010 release of Ragged But Right, the decades-delayed second album by the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band, include a fascinating detail unremarked anywhere else that I know of. Talking about Garcia's health, Silbermann says
[Garcia's] health crisis came to a head in early July after a concert at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC featuring the Dead, Dylan and Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. Nelson, who was Dylan's guitar tech on the tour...
Wait, really? David Nelson was Bob Dylan's guitar tech on the 1986 Bob Dylan/Tom Petty tour? The tour began in February in Australia, and ran through around Memorial Day, well after the July bills with the Dead. Was Nelson on the whole tour, or only part of it? Inquiring minds really want to know.

Inquiring minds really want to know, but its extremely unlikely they will ever find out much. Bob Dylan is not just a fine musician and songwriter, but a major, one-name celebrity. People who work for celebrities generally sign ironclad Nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) that present them from discussing their work, or anything that they saw or heard about the celebrity's life or business. This is why it's very rare to hear any statements directly attributable to Jennifer Aniston's chauffeur or George Clooney's housekeeper. Dylan has a particular reputation for being particularly secretive, even by celebrity standards, so he would be considerably less sympathetic to informal leaks that might be tolerated by movie stars whose personal lives help sell movie tickets. No one who works for Dylan says a thing, and if they do Dylan's lawyers apparently make sure that it doesn't occur again.

The inevitable NDA explains why Nelson has never, to my knowledge, uttered a word about working for Bob Dylan on the 1986 tour. I should add that none of Dylan's other guitar techs (I know who at least some of them were) have ever said a word about their work, either. Nelson, of course, while always talking effusively about Garcia's work with the New Riders and other things he had in common with Nelson, has to this very day kept to himself many private things about the Dead that Garcia must have shared with him in passing. Nelson kept Garcia's counsel long before there was any NDA in question, so it must have been appealing to Bob Dylan to know he had a guy working with him who was already a friend and colleague to a legendary rock star.

Guitar Techs
What are Guitar Techs, and what did they do? The Grateful Dead were very different than most major 80s and 90s bands of similar stature, in that they did not employ Guitar Techs in the same fashion as other touring bands. Jerry Garcia was famous for being all but surgically attached to his guitar on the day of a show. There are many stories of people meeting Garcia in the dressing room hours before the show, while Garcia ran through scales and other exercises endlessly, while talking and carrying on. Garcia always used his "A" guitar, too,throughout the whole day. Obviously, Garcia always had spares on the road in case of an emergency, but on a given evening, he only played one guitar all night long. Weir and Lesh followed roughly the same policy. Occasionally I would see Weir or Lesh switch instruments during a show, but they too generally stuck to one axe at a time. The net result of this approach was that each player tuned his own guitar and changed his own strings before and during a show.

Most of the 80s and 90s bands playing basketball arenas and "sheds" (indoor-outdoor Pavilions, like the Shoreline Amphitheater) followed a completely different practice. Most groups who played big places worked off pretty rigid setlists with comparatively fixed arrangements. A band on stage didn't want to leave their audience hanging while they re-tuned their guitars--I'm obviously not talking about the Dead--so the guitarists had someone off stage handing them guitars. Most players used several guitars during a show, each appropriate for the song and tuned accordingly. I use to see a lot of rock concerts back in the day, and I always counted guitars (that's just me). My personal record was seeing Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits use nine different guitars at a concert at the Concord Pavilion (the band was great, by the way). Each guitar was perfectly chosen for each song, and Knopfler's Guitar Tech would discreetly hand Knopfler the next guitar and take the old one from him, while remaining partially blocked by a substantial monitor.

Players who were using multiple guitars needed them all in tune and ready to go throughout the show. Almost all roadies can turn on a guitar, change a string and get it somewhat in tune. But if you are in the spotlight and about to play your biggest hit in front of 20,000 people, when a guy hands you the guitar it needs to be Ready To Go. So for a guy like Mark Knopfler, changing guitars on almost every tune and with all of them different, you need a real guitar player to set them up and check them out, each and every night. Don't forget also that for most major bands, the lead guitarist is one of (if not the) big stars, so prior to the show he's probably meeting radio station guys, shaking the promoter's hand, and so on, all as part of the record company's promotional efforts, another ritual the Grateful Dead largely avoided. Even a serious player like Knopfler who probably enjoyed fiddling with his instruments before a show would not have had time to insure they were all up to speed according to his standards.

A Guitar Tech, however, with no other duty but to make sure all the guitars sounded good, were tuned perfectly and clean as a whistle could make sure that the lead guitarist had what he wanted when he wanted it. Guitar Techs had to be pretty good guitar players, they couldn't be temperamental, and their ego had to be manageable enough so that they weren't jealous of working in the shadows of a more famous player. As a practical matter, the Guitar Tech gig often provided a good job for a guitar playing friend of the lead guitarist, giving him a trustworthy lieutenant on the road as well as someone to hang out with and jam. Sometimes the Guitar Tech became an adjunct member of the band--in 1986, when I saw REM at Oakland Coliseum, the Guitar Tech (Buren Fowler) handed guitarist Pete Buck his instruments all night, but for the last few numbers he joined in with the band onstage, as Buck could not cover the overdubs effectively in such a giant place (many metal bands were reputed to use the Guitar Tech to keep the sound rockin' while the lead guitarist engaged in various onstage performance antics).

A guy like Dylan might just switch back and forth between acoustic and electric, but he still wanted it to happen quickly. But if a string broke, or something got out of tune, he wouldn't have wanted to stop and tune it--there was too much going on, and in any case, Dylan is a man of mystery, and men of mystery cannot be bogged down by technical problems without seeming unmysterious. So Dylan, like almost every other major act besides the Dead, would have used a Guitar Tech. Dylan, however, was notoriously insular, and probably did not hang out and jam with his Guitar Tech. Nonetheless, its still at least possible that once in awhile, Nelson and Dylan sat around picking "Pretty Peggy-O." It's a nice thought, but Nelson, unfortunately, can't tell us about it.

How did David Nelson get the job as Bob Dylan's Guitar Tech, whether he had it for just a few stadium shows or months of touring? It's hard not to suspect Jerry Garcia's hand in this. And, for that matter, who was Dylan's Guitar Tech during the 1987 Bob Dylan/Grateful Dead stadium tour? I've gotta think it was Nelson. Hey--maybe Garcia, Nelson and Dylan sat around playing "Pretty Peggy-O," but I'm sure Jerry and Dave did even if Bob didn't. If Nelson was on the 1987 stadium tour, it certainly would have set the table for the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band shows that would follow later in the Fall.

The Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band slid away in late 1988. David Nelson found himself playing with Al Rapone And The Zydeco Express, and he toured with Zydeco acts for a few years. In the early 1990s, as the Dead became more and more popular, Nelson's status and talents made him a more appealing entity, and that in turn led to the David Nelson Band and the current New Riders Of The Purple Sage. All to the good.

What about the mid-80s, though? Did Jerry Garcia secure a gig with Bob Dylan for one of his oldest friends? It sure seems like it. Maybe the historical closeness between Garcia and Dylan has a missing link, a missing link named David Nelson. Dylan has written a number of songs with Robert Hunter over the years, in itself a remarkable fact that has been lightly commented on. Everyone always sees the Garcia/Hunter connection with Dylan, and rightly so, but perhaps there is another, unseen connection between Dylan and Hunter through David Nelson. We may never know, but it's still an intriguing line of thought.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Howard Wales, Rendezvous With The Sun, What Next Records 1976/1999 (More Hooteroll)

(the cover to the cd re-release of the 1976 Howard Wales album Rendezvous With The Sun. The art is by Kevin Haapala, formerly the guitarist in Marin County band Flying Circus)

A recent post on another blog of mine about the Jerry Garcia/Howard Wales collaboration the Hooteroll? album pursued the seemingly simple question of when the album was actually recorded. My original purpose for the analysis was to attempt to assess Garcia's partnership with various keyboard players in his nightclub band. The subject turned out to be not at all simple, and the subject leapfrogged to another blog for further rumination. Nor was it a simple matter to figure out the arc of when the album was released, and the apparent corporate machinations behind the album turned out to be intriguing as well. My original plan to focus my Grateful Dead blog on the history of live performances of the band and its members had been infiltrated by the mysterious history of Hooteroll?.

My solution to the Hooteroll problem will be this blog, where I discuss all the issues arising from the scholarship in my Lost Live Dead blog, but not directly related to it. Grateful Dead scholarship is a series of interlocking circles, like a Venn diagram, and this blog will look at some circles that have somewhat less overlap with the central topics of Lost Live Dead. I have always strived to make Lost Live Dead and its partner, Rock Prosopography, feature well researched posts about subjects I consider important. I admit, I may be one of the few people who thinks the history of The Good News (a mostly forgotten 1966 South Bay band that included Dave Torbert) was important, but I find myself curious about many subjects that even I cannot justify posting about without indulging myself in undermining the focus of my blogs. Hence this blog, which as far as Grateful Dead topics go, has been conceived as a platform where I can indulge some of the more trivial and speculative results of my Grateful Dead research. If that turns into all Hooteroll, all the time, so be it.

Rendezvous With The Sun-Howard Wales (Coastal CST1000, 1976: CD What Next WNR 1001, 1999 [distributed by Grateful Dead Records])
In the late 1990s, Grateful Dead Records had a fairly substantial mail order operation, for an independent record label. Their most prominent products were archival Grateful Dead cds, such as Dick's Picks, but they also retailed the band's regular cds and new and re-issued solo material. Someone in the band heirarchy got the idea of releasing albums by friends of the band that would appeal to the Dead's audience, and they released an Allman Brothers album recorded in 1970, a Crosby/Nash album recorded in 1971 and a new live album (with classic material) by the Sons Of Champlin in 1998. While I think the effort was well intentioned, the Grateful Dead were in an odd inbetween status after Garcia's death, and the albums did not get the attention they deserved. All three aggregations subsequently released additional albums under different aegis, and over the next few years Grateful Dead Records scaled back its efforts to focus only on the Grateful Dead.

As part of this effort, Grateful Dead Records released two cds by Howard Wales. Wales had been running the Monday night jam session at the Matrix in early 1970, when Garcia became a regular. The Garcia/Wales/John Kahn/Bill Vitt ensemble only lasted a few months, but it spawned the Garcia/Saunders aggregation that followed, and that in turn led to the Jerry Garcia Band. Jerry Garcia was also Wales's partner on the peculiarly named Hooteroll? album (on Columbia), which was the first release with Garcia's name on it when it was released in September 1971. Warner Brothers rushed out Garcia's debut solo album in January 1972 as competition, but Columbia sponsored Garcia as a guest on an East Coast tour by Howard Wales. The 10 date tour in January of 1972 was Garcia's first solo tour outside of California.

Wales was a very "outside" player, and his swirling organ and strange changes pushed Garcia's guitar playing into the furthest out realm of anything he ever released under his own name. Garcia had continued to record with Wales after Saunders had taken over the keyboard chair in their little band, so clearly Garcia liked him personally. Wales had played on two tracks of American Beauty in 1970, and Wales had jammed with the Dead various times. He was apparently auditioned for the keyboard chair--whether in 1970 or 1971 isn't clear yet--but was deemed "too strange." Wales disappeared from the Grateful Dead universe for many years, but rather unexpectedly sat in with the Jerry Garcia Band at the Warfield for a few songs on March 5, 1988. Whatever Wales exact story may have been, Garcia seemed to have been OK with him, and Wales's playing was as unconventional as ever.

Wales kept a very low profile from the 1970s onward. According to Garcia, Wales was uncomfortable with success. He had moved to the Bay Area in 1968 with a progressive blues band from Milwuakee called AB Skhy. AB Skhy had a local following, and they released a pretty good debut album on MGM in 1969. The one live tape I have of them (Avalon Ballroom, March 30 '69) is terrific. However, just as some kind of buzz had begun about the group, Wales seems to have quit, and he did not appear on their second album (Ramblin' On, MGM 1970). However, Wales association with Garcia got him a Columbia contract for Hooteroll?, but that seems to have spooked him as well, and he was largely unseen after the early 1970s.

Nonetheless, it appears that Wales released a little known album called Rendezvous With The Sun in 1975, and it was released on Coastal Records in  1976. After arriving and disappearing with no fanfare--I was totally unaware of the album in the 70s--Grateful Dead Records distributed the album on cd in about 1999. The re-release was actually on What Next Records, which appears to be Wales's own label. Grateful Dead Records hardly publicized the release. They also released a contemporary Wales solo album, The Monk In The Mansion, in 2000. This cd was actually released on Grateful Dead Records, but it too received very little publicity.

Wales had not been totally invisible in the previous decades, but close to it. Every once in a while his name would turn up on the local club listings. In 1996, he had started playing around regularly with the great guitarist Harvey Mandel. In fact, I saw the Harvey Mandel Band with Howard Wales open a show at the Fillmore on May 16, 1996 (the headliners were Eric Burdon, Alvin Lee and Aynsley Dunbar: Best Of The British Blues). The music seemed to mainly be Mandel's, driving sophisticated blues, well played instrumental music that never got too far out there. The band was a quartet, with Wales playing a little electronic keyboard instead of a big Hammond organ (bassist Nate Riddle and drummer Benny Murray filled out the lineup).

Rendezvous With The Sun is a pretty enjoyable mid-70s instrumental album, but it doesn't really stand out for me. The title track is heavily orchestrated, with multiple keyboard overdubs, but most of the songs are in mildly funky jazz groove. While it hearkens back a little to the first AB Skhy album, the nearest contemporary comparison would be Brian Auger and The Oblivion Express, although Wales lacks Auger's magical ability to mix deep musicianship with a catchy organ groove. Wales plays beautifully, but he never gets way out there the way he did with AB Skhy or Hooteroll?.

The music on Rendezvous With The Sun is copyrighted 1975, but I believe it was recorded earlier. Since it was recorded at Wally Heider's with Al Schmidt as the engineer, that suggests major record company support, but from whom is uncertain. For reasons too oblique even for this blog, I think the album was prepared for a major label, but Wales got dropped and the project was finished somewhat later for the unknown-to-me Coastal Records. The core band is the same one that Garcia and Wales toured with in 1972: Jim Vincent on guitar, Wales on keyboards, Roger Troy on bass and Tom Donlinger on drums. Donlinger and Vincent were brothers (Jim Vincent's real last name is Donlinger), and they had been in the Chicago band Aorta, and by the mid-70s would turn up in the group Lovecraft (who were not HP Lovecraft, also from Chicago--got it?). Troy was a Midwesterner as well, and had worked for many years in Cincinnati.

Various other players turn up on Rendezvous, but there are no track listings. There are two other bassists, Doug Killmer and Peter Marshall, Pat Gleeson on synthesizers, Bill Champlin on a few "ooh-ooh" vocals and 7 horn players on one track ("My Blues"). While old friend Martin Fierro is one of the players, several of them are Los Angeles session heavies who among many other things were part of Frank Zappa's Petit Wazoo ensemble (Gary Barone, Mike Altschul and Sal Marquez). High priced overdubs are one of the markers of major label involvement, although the playing of these big hitters is quite restrained.

Why did Grateful Dead Records distribute the cd re-release of Rendezvous With The Sun? No publicity was associated with it, even on the Dead website, and as Wales played out only occasionally, as it appears he mostly scores films and other professional studio work for a living, he did nothing to promote it. Wales's own website, where the cd is now available, has little useful information about the record. Like everything associated with Howard Wales, explanations are just beyond the horizon. I can't imagine many people bought the cd from Grateful Dead Merchandising--for all I know I was the only one.

I grant that Howard Wales is a name associated with Jerry Garcia, but he's a pretty obscure name. GDM was not a charity, so there had to be some reason for the release. While by all accounts Wales is quite a nice guy, his friendship was with Garcia and John Kahn, and he seems to have had little or no contact with other members of the band or the extended family.

In 1998, Grateful Dead Records released the cd Side Trips, Volume One by Jerry Garcia and Howard Wales. It featured selections from a fantastic performance at the Matrix on May 18, 1970. Garcia, Wales, John Kahn and Bill Vitt play the most flexible, strange and inventive music imaginable, and its plain to see how Wales opened up Garcia's playing into the vast, jazzy landscape he would explore in the mid-70s. Since Wales would have had to assent to the release, I think part of the agreement was that GDM would distribute the re-release of Rendezvous With The Sun and also release The Monk In The Mansion on Grateful Dead Records.

Whether or not I am correct, and whether or not it was a good deal, Side Trips Volume One is essential Garcia. Rendezvous With The Sun shows how much Wales needed Garcia to explore his most far out side, although obviously the album was made with some commercial considerations in mind. Not that it mattered in 1999, but Jerry would have been the first to be willing to release an old Howard Wales album as a courtesy to his old friend, even if it was probably done for more business-like reasons. If I am correct about Side Trips being dependent on the Wales releases, that was a pretty shrewd business deal on Wales's part. I suspect he had some good advice, and since his website mentions work he did with "Sy Klopps," I would suspect that Sy himself--Campolindo High School graduate, former Frumious Bandersnatch and Santana road manager and Journey manager Walter "Herbie" Herbert--may have helped make the deal go down.

Whatever the exact back story, given the importance of Howard Wales in Jerry Garcia's musical development, its a useful thing to have his only major recording for several years available, even if the background is inconclusive. Wales was so far ahead of mid-70s music that he seems to have been unable to move backwards, and the album isn't that satisfying, although ironically that may be as much because I know what heights he was capable of reaching, rather than any actual failing of Rendezvous With The Sun itself.