One of the most persistent myths over the years has been that the Warlocks played Palo Alto High School. I normally don't take the time to debunk misinformation, but a couple of factors make the Palo Alto High myth a little different:
- a fake poster circulates widely, claiming to advertise the Warlocks playing Palo Alto High School on New Year's Eve, 1964, and
- Bill Kreutzmann, Pigpen and me all went to Paly
The "New Year's Eve 64" Poster
Some company of unknown provenance marketed commemorative "boxing-style" posters of old rock concerts, usually sold through record stores. These circulate on eBay for appropriately low prices. In most cases, these posters listed famous events like Altamont with the location and the bands. I never found them attractive, but people are free to put up what they want on their dorm room wall. However, the one poster of that series that always irritated me (so much so that I refuse to link to it--google it yourself) was a poster featuring an iconic 1966 Herb Greene photo of the Grateful Dead, supposedly advertising a show on December 31,1964 at Palo Alto High School by The Warlocks.
For anyone with a modicum of knowledge about the Grateful Dead's history, the poster was self-evidently ridiculous: the Grateful Dead had not even formed in 1964, a 1966 photo of the Dead would not be used to advertise a Warlocks show, and so on. Nonetheless, as a graduate of Paly (class of '75) it was particularly galling to see this poster staring at me from so many record stores.
The San Francisco Mime Troupe, Palo Alto High School, September 19, 1965
The Mime Troupe performed at Palo Alto High School on September 19, 1965, probably at the school theater. I have seen this date floated around as a Warlocks show at Paly. However, although Bill Graham was the Mime Troupe's manager at this time, he had no connection to the Bay Area rock underground yet, so this too is a false trail.
The Bill Kreutzmann Connection
Bill Kreutzmann graduated from Palo Alto High School in June, 1965, shortly after the Warlocks formed. This was generally known around Palo Alto in the 1970s, and was generally offered as "proof" that the Dead or the Warlocks must have played Palo Alto High School. Famously, the 1969 Paly High graduation featured Santana, so it seemed plausible that in the misty days of yore, the Warlocks must have played some dance or other.
While Kreutzmann was at Paly, he mainly played in a band called The Legends. He also played occasionally in a group called The Zodiacs fronted by a guitarist named Troy Weidenheimer. That band mostly played Stanford fraternity dances (at places like Searsville Lake, for any of you who remember it). Weidenheimer was a manager at Dana Morgan Music, where Jerry Garcia worked, and while The Zodiacs played what was called "R&B" in those days (essentially modified blues), they were unique in that they did not play songs, per se. Weidenheimer simply called out a beat and a key, and soloed for a while while the frat boys boogied. The band had no set membership, but Kreutzmann sometimes played drums and Pigpen sometimes played harmonica. Jerry Garcia was a sometime bass player, and he has admitted to being profoundly influenced by Weidenheimer's approach to performing.
The Legends, meanwhile, were a more typical R&B outfit of the early 60s, playing songs by The Coasters and James Brown as well as old rock and roll classics. A San Jose musician from that era (a member of the group Sweet Smoke) told me that Palo Alto bands like The Legends played to more mixed audiences and thus had a more soulful sound than the surf oriented bands that played the San Jose area. The community next to Palo Alto was called East Palo Alto, which was not a town but actually an unincorporated part of a different County (San Mateo rather than Santa Clara). East Palo Alto was largely undeveloped and had the only substantial African American community in the South Bay. There were actual "juke joints" in East Palo Alto, and Pigpen at least, hung out there, even if few other white teenagers did. Thus Palo Alto, surprising as it may seem today, had a bit more diversity than some of the surrounding suburban towns.
The Legends had been a popular band in Palo Alto for some time. Kreutzmann had replaced one Nick Hammer as drummer. Other members included Howie Schonberger, "Byron" (last name unknown) and bassist Bob Kelley. I believe the band had a lead singer, although exactly who it was remains uncertain to me. Apparently the group performed Bobby Blue Bland's "Turn On Your Lovelight," but so did almost every other R&B band from the early 60s. Robert Kelley actually went on to some local fame as the founder of the acclaimed South Bay theatrical troupe TheatreWorks. When I was in High School, I actually knew Bob Kelley a little bit, as he directed an excellent theater group called Youth Workshop. He was a relaxed, cool guy, at least to a 14 year old. Of course, it never remotely occurred to me to ask him "were you ever in a band with any of the guys in the Grateful Dead?" and he never mentioned it.
Palo Alto High School 1964-66
Although the town of Palo Alto was liberal and tolerant, it was still the rather dull hotbed of social rest that it remains today. Would be bohemians were tolerated more than elsewhere, but not exactly encouraged. The class of '66 graduate I met was very bored by Palo Alto and Paly High, and couldn't wait to leave. Throughout the Fall of 65, she found Paly so dull that most lunchtimes she walked over to eat with Phil Lesh and his girlfriend, who lived nearby, so when she says "if The Warlocks played Paly, I would have known," I take that as definitive. Nonetheless, she made a couple of critical points.
First of all, she said that most of the bands who played dances, for money, were pretty well established, and the Warlocks were very much on the fringes in the Fall of '65. Most of the local bands who actually played Paly played for free at lunchtime, in the central quad. She was pretty sure that Kreutzmann and the Legends had played a lunchtime show at Paly, but at the time they would have played (between 1964 and '65) she would not have known Kreutzmann well so she doesn't have a specific memory. Nonetheless, it made perfect sense to her that a band featuring a Paly student would play the High School at lunch.
This of course begged the question of whether the Warlocks might have played for free at lunch. The Paly graduate had a long lost but very critical piece of information: although Pigpen had attended Paly, which was widely known in my day (his much younger brother had as well), she observed that Pigpen was actually expelled. I had known the not-surprising fact that Pigpen had not graduated Paly, but I had not known that he was expelled. She made the point that expelled students were not allowed on campus, so the Warlocks would not have been allowed to play even if Pigpen wanted to perform there, which he probably didn't. It wouldn't have taken much to get expelled from Paly in those days--no doubt any number of Pigpen's normal habits (except reading) might have caused his forced departure.
No one cares much about where the Warlocks didn't play, but I feel satisfied putting this issue to rest. I doubt people paid much attention to the bogus poster in the first place, but I take some satisfaction in the fact that not only did the Warlocks not play Paly, they would not have been allowed to play there in any case, due to some transgression or other by Pig. Palo Alto High School has many famous graduates (49ers coach Jim Harbaugh being the most recent), but Pigpen must be our most legendary non-graduate, and unquestionably the most famous expelled student.