|Journey's 1975 debut album on Columbia, with George Tickner on rhythm guitar|
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|
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
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
|Herbie Herbert, probably in the 1980s|
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|
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.
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
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.
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.