Saturday, September 24, 2011

George Tickner-Guitar (Garcia/Saunders Group-Spring 1973)

Journey's 1975 debut album on Columbia, with George Tickner on rhythm guitar
Some recent discussions have indicated that George Tickner performed as an additional guitarist with Jerry Garcia and Merl Saunders on a few shows in Spring 1973. Sharp ears have discerned his playing on a March 7, 1973 tape from Keystone Berkeley and a May 4, 1973 tape from Homer's Warehouse in Palo Alto. The Jerry Site also puts Tickner at the Boarding House in San Francisco on April 13 and 14, 1973. I have never heard a tape of any of these performances, but a reliable source confirmed to me that Tickner played the Boarding House shows, and he seems a likely candidate for the March 7 and May 4 tapes. Given that there were only 10 Garcia/Saunders live shows in the Spring of 73, between March 6 and May 5 (as Old and In The Way took up much of Garcia's "spare" time), and we only have tapes of two of them, it's entirely possible that George Tickner played guitar on all 10 of them.

Regardless of what Tickner may have added or subtracted from the group, his brief presence fascinates me in a number of ways. The Garcia/Saunders band was basically a bar band, so when friends joined in to sing a song or play a trumpet solo, that was part of the musician's code, letting your friends have a go just to have some fun. When different people filled in on bass or drums, that was just business--if John Kahn or Bill Vitt wasn't available, someone had to fill the chair.

However, if an additional musician joined the band for an entire show, much less for two or several, there's no other way to consider it but as an audition. Sure, the band was casual, and Kahn or somebody probably just invited someone like Martin Fiero to "come on down and play" a few times, but there's no way that happens unless Garcia had some kind of interest in adding something to the band. Tom Fogerty had been a part-time member of the Garcia/Saunders band in 1971 and '72, but by 1973 he seemed to be concentrating on his solo career. Thus the idea of another rhythm guitarist must have at least presented itself as a possibility. The part that interests me about George Tickner is this: as near as I can tell, Tickner had just graduated from college, and had not been a professional musician since at least 1969, if not before.

This post will attempt to look at the social relationships that appear to exist that would facilitate the unknown George Tickner getting a chance to play with Jerry Garcia for a few nights. The relationships can only be discerned from a great distance, much as we analyze the genealogy of Medieval German princes in order to discover the alliances of their various tiny kingdoms in the 14th century. I actually saw George Tickner perform live twice in 1975, both times with Journey, and he seemed solid and tasteful, if unspectacular, so there doesn't seem to be any specific virtuosity that made him a candidate for the band. Without inherent virtuosity, only relationships could provide the opportunity, so I will consider George Tickner with respect to the degrees of separation from Jerry Garcia.

Frumious Bandersnatch in 1967, George Tickner second from right
Frumious Bandersnatch, Mark I
As far as I know, George Tickner was from Lafayette, CA, which in 1967 was a bucolic East Bay suburb in Contra Costa County, just over the hill from Berkeley. Although Lafayette was in easy driving distance to Berkeley and San Francisco, the City was seen as a distant, threatening place, which of course made it irresistible to the local teenagers. Some aspiring young residents formed the group Frumious Bandersnatch, and shortly afterwards moved to a warehouse in Oakland. The original lineup of Frumious Bandersnatch was
  • Kaja Doria-vocals
  • Bret Wilmot-lead guitar
  • George Tickner-guitar
  • Bret Hough-bass
  • Jack King-drums, vocals
Two studio recordings survive, captured on the 1996 Big Beat cd A Young Man's Song, a retrospective of the career of Frumious Bandersnatch with great liner notes by Alec Palao. The early Frumious had a sort of hard-rocking Jefferson Airplane feel, apparently, and Tickner's riffing guitar was a big part of their sound. Frumious Bandersnatch played all sorts of gigs around the Bay Area in 1967, including Lafayette's most notorious (and only) outdoor rock festival, The Fantastic Flight of The Mystic Balloon, on July 22, 1967 (some photos can be seen here). While there were numerous teenage bands playing the Contra Costa circuit, Frumious had been the only one to break out through the Caldecott Tunnel and play San Francisco venues, even if they were just an opening act. All this came to an end in late 1967, when the band's equipment was stolen from their Oakland waterfront warehouse. Frumious Bandersnatch had to pack it in.

Frumous Bandersnatch, Mark II
There weren't many Contra Costa bands, and they all knew each other. A band called the Good Timers heard about Frumious's demise and called Jack King. The Good Timers joined forces with King and took over the name Frumious Bandersnatch, which was sort of known around San Francisco. The new, 1968 lineup of Frumious Bandersnatch was
  • Jimmy Warner-lead guitar
  • David Denny-guitar
  • Ross Valory-bass
  • Jack King-drums, vocals
With the addition of guitarist/vocalist Bobby Winkelmann (formerly of The Epics), the three-guitar lineup of Frumious Bandersnatch became a popular live act in the Bay Area. They opened for the Grateful Dead on various occasions, including two of the nights at Fillmore West when the Dead recorded Live/Dead (March 1-2, 1969), when they replaced Doug Sahm.  Frumious was booked by Bill Graham's Millard Agency, so despite the fact they never landed a record contract, they played a lot of great live gigs around the Bay Area. Palao's liner notes have the complete story.

Herbie Herbert, probably in the 1980s
Walter "Herbie" Herbert
However, the most important part of the George Tickner story turns out to be Frumious Bandersnatch's road manager, Walter "Herbie" Herbert. Herbert had been a high school musician along with the rest of his friends, and was a drummer for the Orinda based Long Greens, but his real vocation turned out to be looking after bands. The band members were defiant hippies, but Herbert was a true recalcitrant (he was  kicked out of Miramonte High and graduated from Campolindo High School in 1966), just the right attitude for a road manager.

Herbert had been the manager, road manager and sole roadie for The Good Timers when they heard about the demise of Frumious Bandersnatch. Herbert had the idea of calling Jack King and taking the name, since it had more booking leverage than The Good Timers. David Denny had been a friend in various bands, and along with the two best members of The Good Timers (Warner and Valory), Herbert had the best players and the most salable name of the Contra Costa bands. He painted The Good Timers van over with the name Frumious Bandersnatch, and became the manager and road manager for them.

When Frumious Bandersnatch started to work for BGP and The Millard Agency, Herbert focused more on the road manager side of the business. However, working with BGP, Herbert got a major education in how the rock business really worked, and nothing was lost on him. When Frumious Bandersnatch broke up for good at the end of 1969, Herbert became a roadie and later the road manager for Santana, then BGP's principal client on the management side. Herbert helped shepherd Santana in their rise to world stardom, having gone from driving a van through the Caldecott tunnel to flying to Madison Square Garden for sold out engagements. As a result, Herbert knew all sides of the rock business as only an insider could.

George Tickner 1968-72.
Meanwhile, what of George Tickner? After the demise of Frumious Mark I, Tickner largely dropped off the rock and roll map. As near as I can tell, that was because Tickner seems to have taken the shocking, non-60s rock and roll step of attending and graduating from college. I'm not sure where he went or what he majored in, but I know he got into medical school (more on this later) so he was no slacker. It appears that Tickner was not working as a professional musician, not surprising for a serious student. Nonetheless, he must have kept up his guitar playing, and I assume he was in some jamming ensembles or part-time dance bands or something, because his guitar playing skills didn't disappear.

The only lp by Faun, circa 1968-69
For various reasons I have assumed that Tickner went to college from Fall 1968 through Spring 1972. Obviously, he could have had a slightly different program, but the bulk of his college education must have taken place during that time. The only professional role for Tickner that I am aware of is on an obscure album called Faun, released on Gre Gar records. Faun seems to have been recorded in the 1968-69 period, and released about 1969. Tickner and Ross Valory appear on the record. According to the liner notes, the album “seems to trip backward and forward through time”… a unique blend of pop, jazz, 1930 swing and the classics." Whatever the genesis of the Faun album, it seems to have been a studio concoction.

Garcia/Saunders with George Tickner, Spring, 1973
With this lengthy precis about George Tickner's career prior to 1973, the peculiarity of Tickner's nights with Garcia take on a new light. Tickner had not been a professional musician in several years, and he had no known professional connections to Garcia, Saunders, Kahn or Vitt, other than through Herbie Herbert. Even the Herbert connection isn't so direct--Herbert was not the road manager for Frumious Bandersnatch when Tickner was a member. Of course, all the Contra Costa hippie musicians, few in number, knew each other, so clearly Herbert and Tickner were connected. Nonetheless, I cannot find a plausible explanation for Tickner's appearance with Jerry Garcia except for that Herbie Herbert must have pitched him to Garcia. I also have to think there must have been a rehearsal or at least a jam, and Tickner must have passed well enough to play Keystone Berkeley (March 7), the two nights at the Boarding House and Homer's Warehouse (May 4), if not every show in the Spring.

The initial lineup of the Garcia/Saunders band had been stable for 1971 and '72, with Tom Fogerty on rhythm guitar as a mostly-present member along with the base quartet (Garcia/Saunders/Kahn/Vitt). Early 1973 was characterized by some experimentation by Garcia, including Sarah Fulcher on vocals as well as the addition of Tickner on guitar. After a Winter and Spring of experimentation, Garcia seems to have decided on sticking with the quartet. This wasn't casual, as they recorded their album for Fantasy in July 1973, so the business decision must have been made earlier. Garcia, Saunders, Kahn and Vitt seem to have been trying out various band members to see how they wanted to constitute the band, but by June they seem to have decided on a quartet. Of course, different people dropped in throughout the year, but the first part of the year seems to have been taken up with exploring different options, and Tickner was part of that process.

Herbie Herbert has always proudly described himself as a Deadhead. Indeed, he has said his business plan for Journey was to make them a more polished version of the Grateful Dead. Although the original Santana band had disintegrated by the end of 1972, and Herbert was no longer their road manager, as part of a business agreement he was leasing Santana's sound and light equipment to other touring bands. Thus Herbert, who would have known Garcia for years in any case, would have been able to approach Garcia as a professional peer, not a wannabe who wanted to get in with the band. Herbert's persuasive powers are legendary, and I can think of no other explanation for Tickner's performance with Garcia in Spring 1973.

I think Herbert knew that Garcia was looking for other band members, and he persuaded Garcia and Kahn that they should try out his friend George Tickner. Tickner must have at least done well enough in rehearsal to get on stage with the band, even if he didn't play more than ten shows, and possibly fewer. Of course, I don't think the Garcia/Saunders band needed a rhythm guitarist anyway, so the fact that they didn't keep Tickner is not a criticism of his playing. Its funny to contemplate, though: how many recent college graduates in 1973 were pretty good guitar players, and thought to themselves, "yeah, I could play 'Expressway To My Heart' with Jerry in some bar!" Tickner seems to be the guy who got to do that, if just for a few nights.

Journey 1973-75
Supposedly, after the demise of Santana, guitarist Neal Schon had planned a group in 1973 with Pete Sears and Gregg Errico called "The San Francisco Rhythm Section," a sort of San Francisco Booker T and The MGs. It never happened, not least because major label recording activity declined in San Francisco. By the end of 1973, Schon's idea had evolved into a group called Journey. Journey recorded a demo in 1974 that got the band signed to Columbia Records. Journey's original lineup was
  • Neal Schon-lead guitar
  • George Tickner-guitar
  • Gregg Rolie-keyboards, vocals
  • Ross Valory-bass
  • Prairie Prince-drums
Prince, however, refused to leave The Tubes, and was replaced by the great Aysnley Dunbar before the end of 1974. Herbie Herbert was Journey's manager, and the band was a merger of his previous bands, with two guys from Santana and two from Frumious Bandersnatch.

After Journey had recorded their debut album, but before it was released, Journey played all over the Bay Area on the strength of Rolie and Schon's status as former members of Santana. I saw Journey twice during that period, once opening for Dave Mason at Maples Pavilion (January '75) and later headlining a local concert at Fiesta Hall at the San Mateo County Fairgrounds (May '75). George Tickner was the rhythm guitarist for both those shows. Early Journey had much more of a prog rock/fusion sound than the more famous, poppier Journey that would follow. While they didn't jam like the Dead, there were extended, unscripted solos. I wasn't impressed with Journey, but they were good musicians, and Tickner had no problem anchoring Schon, Rolie and Dunbar while they wailed away. I can certainly imagine Tickner hanging in there effectively with Jerry and Merl, even if he wasn't absolutely necessary.

Aftermath 1976>Now
After Journey released a moderately successful debut album in 1975, George Tickner left the band to go to medical school. There aren't a lot of musicians who leave major label bands in the middle of a deal to go to medical school. I assume he became a medical professional, as he dropped out of the music business. Tickner has occasionally appeared at events with members of Journey, so he clearly remained friends with the original band. Tickner released the album Charge Of The Light Brigade in 2009, and his MySpace page proudly acknowledged his opportunity to have played with Jerry Garcia.

Journey was hugely successful on a massive scale, and Herbie Herbert ultimately retired as their manager in 1993. Herbert chose to re-invent himself as the blues singer Sy Klopps. Sy's albums are dotted with numerous Grateful Dead connections. In 2002, Sy Klopps recorded an album and did a few shows with a group called The Tri-Chromes, who included Bill Kreutzmann and Neal Schon. When touring ended in 2003, Herbert retired fully to Mendocino.

George Tickner's brief foray with Garcia and Saunders remains a mystery. Only now are we piecing together the actual picture of Garcia's goals for the band, and most of the principals are no longer with us. Tickner is proud enough of having played with Garcia, as well he should be, but I'm not aware of him ever having explained in detail how he came to get the opportunity.


10 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for this great post. I have to say that Tickner is a really, really nice player in the bits and pieces we can hear of him with the Garcia/Saunders band.

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  2. My name is Rich Meyers and I collaborated with George and Dave Williams on his website, which has primarily moved to Facebook, but the MySpace page remains as well.

    George spoke a bit about his time with Jerry and considered him a mentor. He was very proud of his opportunity to play with Jerry, but we never went in depth about their relationship and how it developed.

    Although George and I have not spoke personally since about 2006, a friend of mine still sees him regularly and has a lot of knowledge about GT's past. I've passed this link on to him and hopefully we'll get some answers about his Jerry Garcia connection and other mysteries we hadn't touched on in the website and MySpace, Facebook pages.

    Rich M

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    1. Thank you so very much for posting. There is serious scholarship happening around this stuff these days, and any direct, eyewitness accounts contribute to better history. I know I would love to hear from George Tickner, learn more about his musical background, etc. He plays wonderfully on the handful of Garcia-Saunders tapes on which he is represented.

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    2. George is a very private person. He is uncomfortable with his fame, as it is associated with Journey and the fact that he came out with the band for their 2005 Hollywood Walk Of Fame appearance was a huge thing for him. Until I met him and expressed an interest in creating a website for him, he had no interest in it. We worked hard on it for about a year, then he retreated from it all again. I'm hoping I can expand some more on what is already public record and shine a brighter light on George's career.

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    3. Thanks so much. The good news about GT's involvement with Garcia, and anything that features on Corry's Hooterollin blog, is that it is not a bright spotlight. It's an interesting little corner of the world, where hopefully we can figure some things about without the hassles of fame and publicity!

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  3. Charles Oliphant



    When Fantasy Records first opened many local musicians were invited to come in, jam and check it out. George ended up jamming with Merle Saunders and they clicked. George came home one day and got a message that some Mexican boy had called about George, wanting him to come play with his band. He called the number and right away Jerry Garcia answered "When I'm not out with the Dead, I have the Jerry Garcia Band. Merle told me about you and sez you can play this stuff, we're playing tonight, come and down and sit in". George said "O.K. Tell me where you're rehearsing and I'll come on down". Jerry started laughing "We don't rehearse Man, we're playing Keystone Berkeley tonight, come play, you either fit in or you don't" George sat in. After the first set, a roadie approached George and said "Jerry sez you're in the band and wants to know what you want for the next set?". George said "Two Twin Reverbs", The roadie started laughing "No Man, he wants to know what you want for the next set?". George gave him a list and it was all waiting for him on his amp before the next set. Tom Fogerty was in the band. When the band was ready to go to N.Y. George was told he wasn't going.

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    1. Wow, that is absolutely fascinating.

      The timeline of a New York trip does not quite line up. The existing evidence suggests that GT was around ca. April 13, 1973-May 5, 1973. Of course we don't have tape information for every show, but it's not much more than that. GT was billed with Garcia/Saunders at the Ash Grove down in LA, but is not present on the one set for which there is tape. I wonder if "NY" is really "LA"?

      In the alternative, there was a planned NY trip in that timeframe that did not pan out. Garcia and Saunders wouldn't go out there until September 5, 1973, probably four months after the last trace of George playing with the band.

      One last point/question, on Fogerty. It seems pretty clear that Fogerty and Tickner played sequentially - Tom left, and George got a call. If this is suggesting that they played together, that would be most interesting, indeed.

      Thanks for posting this!

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    2. I second this emotion, thanks so much for posting this. Very fascinating to hear about the jams at Fantasy, that explains why so many players were on each others records--they had all jammed together already. And I love the confirmation of Jerry saying "we don't rehearse--you either fit in or you don't."

      I am not quite clear on the "second set"--what were they waiting on? George's amps to be delivered before the set could begin?

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    3. GT never traveled to NY with Jerry. They told him he wasn't going on the trip.

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