The Grateful Dead were a bunch of misfits, would be outlaws who did not feel comfortable in the paths that the "straight" world would have mapped out for them. The band members were an early wave of post-Beatniks who wanted something different from their life than the proverbial white picket fence and 2.2 children, commuting to the plant or the office 5 days a week. Indeed, with one exception the band members non-musical history only prepared them for being bohemians, so it is fortunate that the 60s came along when they did. This post will consider the educational and professional activities of the original members of the Grateful Dead prior to the formation of the Warlocks in May, 1965. It will not be a long post.
Jerry Garcia: Garcia had attended Balboa High School in San Francisco, but he dropped out around the 11th grade. After getting into some kind of scrape in 1959, a judge offered him the opportunity to join the Army instead of jail--a common enough choice at the time--and the 17-year old Jerry took the Army. Ironically, he was assigned to a base in San Francisco (at The Presidio), so opportunities to go AWOL were many and tempting. Garcia did discover country music in the Army. If he had been sent to a base in the South, he might have been a better soldier and learned about bluegrass more quickly, but it was not to be. Garcia was given a less-than-honorable discharge, but not a dishorable one (I think it was a General Discharge) in 1960. Not having an Honorable Discharge was a barrier to success in the early 1960s, when many males had served in the Armed Forces.
After his debut with Army buddy Robert Hunter as "Bob and Jerry" at Peninsula School, for which they were paid 5 dollars, Garcia played around folk clubs in various combinations. He did not earn a living from playing live music, or even much money, but he was actually paid. He also occasionally played electric bass with a band called The Zodiacs, who played Stanford Frat parties and the like. Bill Kreutzmann and Pigpen were occasional members of The Zodiacs as well.
Garcia also had a job of sorts doing the lighting at a Palo Alto theater group called Commedia Del Arte, around 1962. I think they were on Emerson Street (possibly on the site of the Aquarius Theater). I'm not sure Garcia actually got paid to do the lights, but he could have put it on his resume.
Garcia's principal source of income was as a music teacher at Dana Morgan Music on 536 Ramona Street in Palo Alto. Garcia gave guitar and banjo lessons to aspiring musicians, mostly teenagers, and probably taught mandolin and fiddle as well. Many people in the Palo Alto/Menlo Park area proudly recall that Garcia taught them guitar. The whole Grateful Dead saga began on New Years Eve 1963, when Bob Weir heard banjo music coming from the back of Dana Morgan's. Garcia was practicing, wondering why none of his students were showing up. Garcia told young Bobby that he was planning to form a jug band, and Weir said "I'm in," and so the story began.
In mid-1965, Garcia and Weir had borrowed equipment from Dana Morgan Music to start the Warlocks. When they pushed aside Dana Morgan Jr, the owner's son, as bassist, in favor of Phil Lesh, Morgan Sr demanded his instruments back and effectively fired Garcia and Weir (who by this time was a music teacher as well). Garcia and Weir moved their students over to Guitars Unlimited on El Camino Real in Menlo Park, and borrowed more equipment. When Garcia and Weir actually gave their final guitar lessons at Guitars Unlimited is unclear--probably late 1965.
Bob Weir: Bob Weir attended various High Schools, but did not graduate from any. I think he briefly attended Menlo-Atherton High School, and some private schools, but I'm not sure where. He seems to have met John Barlow in Prep School in the East. I have been told that his mother asked the future founder of Pacific Free High School (too long a story to go into) to "get him to stop playing that guitar and get him into something that will make him some money," but that did not happen.
When Jerry Garcia made his famous trip across country with Sandy Rothman in 1964, Weir apparently took over his students for a few months. Weir remained at Dana Morgan's, and moved on to Guitars Unlimited. Music Teaching music was (and is) a sort of freelance occupation, and fewer people claim Weir as a teacher than Garcia in the Bay Area.
Weir's only professional pre-Warlocks performances were with Mother McRee's Uptown Jug Band Champions, and it is debatable whether they actually got paid.
|An ad for Swain's House Of Music at 451 University in downtown Palo Alto. The ad is from the March 7, 1967 issue of the Cubberley High School paper, The Catamount.|
Kreutzmann also gave drum lessons at Swain's House Of Music, a competitor of Dana Morgan's. Swain's was at 451 University (near Waverley) just a few blocks over from Dana Morgan's.
Ron "Pigpen" McKernan: Pigpen had been expelled from Palo Alto High School in 1964 or '65, for some transgression or series of transgressions. Pigpen apparently had a job as a janitor at Swain's, but he did not give music lessons.
Phil Lesh: Unlike the other Warlocks, Phil Lesh bordered on the respectable. He had graduated from Berkeley High School in 1958, and attended the College Of San Mateo. CSM was a junior college with an excellent music program that included an excellent big band. Lesh played trumpet in the CSM band (Santana's Mike Shrieve was the CSM big band drummer some years later). Ultimately Lesh transferred to UC Berkeley in about 1961. Although University of California admissions were structured to favor California residents and junior college transfers, the fact that Lesh got into UC Berkeley means he had to have been a diligent and successful student. Lesh met Tom Constanten at Berkeley, and the two of them also studied with Luciano Berio at Mills College in Oakland The connection to Mills was probably through the UC music program (although Mills is a Woman's College, male students are admitted to its graduate programs, and there has always been reciprocity between UC and Mills classes). Phil also did some work at KPFA in Berkeley, which (similar to Jerry's stint as a lighting director) would not have been paid, but would have counted as work experience.
Phil dropped out of UC Berkeley about 1962. Unlike the other Warlocks, he had a variety of actual jobs. He worked at a Casino in Las Vegas with Constanten, and he drove a Post Office truck as well. Lesh has recalled hearing "Subterranean Homesick Blues" while driving the truck. Although the USPS was a "straight" job that required a uniform, many beatnik-types liked the work since it often involved being on your own most of the day, and Phil seems to have been no exception. Lesh, to my knowledge, never received a dime for a musical performance prior to performing with the Warlocks at Magoo's Pizza in Menlo Park. He had performed with school jazz ensembles, but those were not (by definition) paying gigs.
|The Pacific Coast Stock Exchange building at 300 Pine St in San Francisco. Phil Lesh worked there briefly in the early 1960s as a board marker for Dean Witter.|
A board marker put up qoutes for the stock trading on the floor of the old P-Coast (board markers were the equities equivalents of MQTOs, for those readers for whom that has meaning). Working on the trading floor, Phil would have had to have worn a tie, thus being the only member of the Dead to have had to worn a tie for employment. Phil's presence on the P-Coast was fascinating to me personally, because at the time I read the interview, I too was working on the Pacific Stock Exchange, albeit on the infinitely more exciting Options Floor around the block.
The P-Coast Equities Floor in the early 1960s had a reputation as a stifling place. When I told my options compatriots that Phil Lesh had apparently worked on the Equities Floor twenty-odd years earlier, their attitude was that it was no surprise that he left, the implication being that if Phil had worked on the Options Floor (which opened only in 1976) he might have stayed. While that is unlikely on the face of it, the Equities Floor had its roots in the 19th Century and showed it, so it's no surprise that Phil found it unrewarding. If he had discovered all the risk and reward of options trading, maybe David Freiberg would have ended up as the Warlocks bass player. To answer the question no doubt foremost in everybody's mind, I think Phil would have been a frontspreader rather than a backspreader.
Even in the mid 1980s, I knew some old Equities brokers who had come over to the brave new world of Options. Of course none of them would have remembered the name of any board marker, ever, much less one who only worked there briefly, so it was futile to ask. There were probably a bunch of skinny kids in ties and ill-fitting jackets, many with glasses, and to think that just a few years later one of them would be headlining major performances under strange psychedelic conditions was too much to comprehend. Of course, the old Pacific Coast Stock Exchange building is now an Equinox Fitness Club, and that too was impossible to imagine at the time. Sic Transit Gloria Psychedelia.