|The cover of the 1973 Paul Humphrey Blue Thumb album Supermellow|
Paul Humphrey was the drummer for the Jerry Garcia/Merl Saunders band for some of 1974. He seems to have joined the band during the late Summer, and left the group in or by December. Since Humphrey was replaced by the great Ronnie Tutt, the Garcia/Saunders ensemble did not suffer a drop in quality, but their sound changed distinctly. Humphrey was a funky, versatile drummer, and he gave the 1974 Garcia/Saunders band an appropriately funky sound that fit in nicely with newly added band member Martin Fiero on tenor sax and flute. That five piece lineup has been permanently and excellent captured on the 2004 3-disc cd set from the Pure Jerry series, Jerry Garcia & Merl Saunders Band: Keystone Berkeley, September 1, 1974.
In doing some recent research into Ron Tutt, I was struck by how little I knew about not only Paul Humphrey but his time playing with Jerry Garcia. It's not at all clear who drummed for Garcia/Saunders in the Summer of '74, and its even less clear when Ron Tutt started to play with the group. We do know that the first confirmed sighting of Tutt was on December 15 in Oregon, but its plain that he had started earlier. The question is not only how much earlier, but whether there was any overlap. Bill Kreutzmann was the drummer for early 1974, but an oblique remark by Kahn suggested that Kahn had to "fire" Kreutzmann, which I take to mean telling him he would not be a permanent member of the group, but only a substitute. Gregg Errico may also have been an occasional substitute as well in the 1974 period.
JGMF recently uncovered some new information that identifies May 31, 1974 as a crucial date in Tutt's tenure with Jerry Garcia. It's possible, even plausible, that Garcia, Kahn and Tutt played together in mid-1974 and agreed to start working together at the time. The ever-busy Tutt, however, may not have been able to start immediately, and with Garcia not desiring Kreutzmann as a permanent member, Humphrey may have been drafted as a temporary guest for a few months. Although this is speculation on my part, I looked into Humphrey' history as a drummer and musician, and I was quite startled by what I found, and it makes my "temporary guest" theory more plausible. Humphrey, it turns out, has a truly substantial history as a drummer, in many ways as impressive as Ron Tutt's and that's saying a lot. Since I don't know anywhere else that Humphrey's history has been laid out in the context of Jerry Garcia, I will do so here, and consider the implications for Garcia's band below.
|The British 45 rpm picture sleeve for Joe Cocker's 1969 hit "Feelin' Alright"|
Paul Humphrey was born in Detroit in 1935. He made his way to Los Angeles in the early 1960s, where he was well regarded as a session drummer. He was at least a satellite "member" of the so-called "Wrecking Crew," an aggregation of Los Angeles studio musicians who played on numerous sessions and are generally believed to be the "most recorded" musicians in the world, at least with respect to released albums, singles and movies. One session that Deadheads may recognize was the late 1968 Joe Cocker recording of Dave Mason's song "Feelin' Alright." Although every other track on Cocker's 1969 debut album on A&M (With A Little Help From My Friends) was recorded in London with the likes of Jimmy Page and Steve Winwood, one track was recorded in Los Angeles with the heaviest of LA's players.
Dave Mason's original version of "Feeling Alright" was a mournful lament that appeared on Traffic's famous second album. Cocker, an entirely different singer than Mason, turned it into a soulful funkfest, managing to maintain the irony of the song's lyrics while investing it with a different kind of power. The version was a modest hit on AM radio, but remains a staple of FM rock radio to this day. The sparse arrangement features a modified sort of Latin beat with legendary wrecking crew bassist Carol Kaye bouncing off against Humphrey's urgent drums. Piano (Artie Butler), congas (Laudir de Oliviera) and guitar (David Cohen--not the Fish guy) join in the background, and Cocker and his backing vocalists sing their hearts out. Kaye says
Paul immediately struck up a semi-samba funk drum part and I went a contrasting way with a rhythm for a bassline. The chorus features the bass playing mostly down beats while Paul was accenting up beats, then we switched places for the verse. It was that simple. Joe had a lot to do with the feel though. He is a very soulful guy and we got along instantly. It was a great date. But the real take (I thought) was the take before the one you hear. I always thought that was the better take, but something happened, erased, or not recorded or something like that. But "Feelin' Alright" was a big hit twice, so I guess that's pretty good.Humphrey has played uncountable sessions, but even a list of the records where he was named is pretty stunning. Pretty much everybody who isn't deaf must have heard Humphrey drum on Marvin Gaye's immortal "Let's Get It On," but Humphrey has played jazz, rock and soul sessions for decades. And it wasn't just easy music, either--he played on Frank Zappa's Hot Rats (he shouldn't be confused with mid-70s Zappa drummer Ralph Humphrey, another phenomenal player). Paul Humphrey even had some modest R&B hits in 1971, "Cool Aid" (#20) and "Funky L.A." (#45). He even released an album, Paul Humphrey and The Cool Aid Chemists, on Lizard Records. Humphrey also released albums in 1973, 1974 and 1981, mostly instrumental funky jazz.
Of course, within the realm of Garcia scholarship, the fact that always gets mentioned was that Humphrey was the drummer for the Lawrence Welk TV show. The syndicated program was on TV five days a week much of the year, and while the Welk "aesthetic" it represented was fairly staid and retro, the quality of the performers was very high. Welk, like Elvis, could hire anyone and he chose to hire Paul Humphrey. However, as best as I can tell Humphrey was the drummer for the Welk show from 1976-1982, so his tenure there actually post-dated his time with Jerry Garcia.
I'm not certain what the connection was between Humphrey and Garcia might have been, but there's good reason to think that the connection was Merl Saunders. Although Humphrey was based in Los Angeles, he recorded various sessions for Fantasy in Berkeley. Saunders was on the Fantasy label and was a regular presence at the 10h Street studios. I'm not aware of Saunders and Humphrey recording together prior to playing together with Garcia, but it's clear they traveled in the same musical circles. Given that Humphrey had recorded with both Wes Montgomery and Kenny Burrell prior to playing with Garcia, there can't have been any doubt that Humphrey knew how to work with great guitarists.
|Paul Humphrey's 1971 album on Lizard Records|
- Bill Kreutzmann was not Garcia's preferred choice for drummer of the Garcia/Saunders band. This appears to stem from a desire to have that band differ from the Dead, rather than any concerns about Billy K's excellent drumming
- Ron Tutt had played on the Compliments album sessions, but hardly or never met Garcia until around May 31, 1974 sessions at Wally Heider
- While Garcia and Tutt no doubt hit it off musically and personally right away, Tutt's busy schedule would have made it difficult to immediately step in as Garcia's regular drummer
- Garcia must have at least anticipated if not actually known that the Dead would be going on hiatus, and that Garcia would play a correspondingly high number of shows
- Garcia, Kahn and Saunders were able to hire Humphrey for a finite period of time from about August through November 1974, with the understanding that Humphrey was only a temp.
- Rumors that Gregg Errico was starting to sub around this time are plausible, since Bill Kreutzmann may not have felt charitable about solving Garcia's personnel commitments during this time
- Once Tutt's schedule was clear, both with respect to Elvis and any recording commitments, Tutt took over full time duties as Garcia and Kahn had always intended