Friday, September 2, 2011

Paul Humphrey-Drums

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-Drums
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
At this point, I can only speculate on the professional relationship between Humphrey and Garcia. However, it would fit the profile that Humphrey was a successful studio musician who enjoyed the freedom of playing with Garcia, while still earning enough money to justify missing sessions. Without belaboring my reasoning, I'm going to lay down a series of propositions about Humphrey's tenure in the Garcia/Saunders band, and wait for them to be proved or disproved.
  • 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
Paul Humphrey appears to still be alive, and I hope well, and I hope still laying it down cool and funky, so maybe we can find out how far on or off the mark my speculation might be.

24 comments:

  1. Totally pathbreaking. Thank you.

    I am going to have to be cursory in this initial reply, because there's a lot to think on. Overall, the story you sketch at the end makes tons of sense to me.

    You have done a beautiful job of fitting the little bits and pieces together, under a kind of unifying logic of doing what they needed to make Garcia/Saunders a going business concern, at least one that could go out and play the core east coast cities on sustained tours (e.g., November 1974 JGMS and April 1975 LOM tours). We are starting to get at the various germs of what would become The Jerry Garcia Band.

    So glad to see a pretty amazing-sounding guy get some daylight thrown his way. I am under the impression that Mr. Humphrey is not in good health, though that's clearly a private issue and I hope it's incorrect.

    I see a Humphrey credit on a 1972 Jimmy Smith album. Merl at various times claimed to have been taught/mentored by and/or to have played with Smith, right? Another thread, that one suggestive of Merl.

    Then, I see a credit for Maria Muldaur's 1974 Waitress in a Donut Shop? Is there a Kahn connection there?

    Then there's a credit to Merl Saunders and Aunt Monk's 1976 record You Can Leave Your Hat On. Doesn't speak to origins of the connection with Merl, but of it's post-Jerry continuation.

    I need to get some of the records Paul Humphrey played on. I see he did some stuff with Blue Mitchell, of whom I am a big, big fan.

    Anyway, again, thank you.

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  2. I was quite surprised by this post myself. I had decided to put together what few facts I could find out, and I was totally stunned to find out what a heavyweight the guy was and is. I was even more surprised when the facts about the mysterious May 31 jam made Humphrey's employment for a few months make total sense.

    As far as the Maria Muldaur record goes, I think that was just a session. We'll have to wait for part sixteen or whatever of my Kahn series, but Kahn wasn't Maria's bandleader at that point. That doesn't rule out Kahn and Humphrey knowing each other, by the way, I just don't think there was a Maria connection at the time.

    Although I couldn't find a record that Humphrey and Merl Saunders played on prior to 1976 (You Can Leave Your Hat On), there are so many connections between the two I have to think that was the line in. Two African American musicians of the same age with a funk and jazz background, moonlighting in rock, seem very likely to have known each other.

    Thus it seems that the Jerry Garcia bands (JGMS, LOM, JGB, Reconstruction) included the drummers for "Suspicious Minds," "Let's Get It On" and "I Want To Take You Higher." Not to mention "Truckin'" of course, and I haven't even gotten to the Pointer Sisters yet.

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  3. I may be able to constrain the time line a bit. When I saw Jerry and Merl at the BCT Benefit on 8/23/74, the drummer was Kreutzmann. The next time i saw them was 10/11/74 at the Chateau Liberte, and Humphrey was on the traps. Garcia made a special point of introducing Humphrey and praising his amazing studio session heritage. I have to say that, Tutt and Kreutzmann aside, it was probably the most impressive, sympathetic drumming I ever heard at a Jerry and Merl show. Although an African-American drummer played with Jerry and Merl at the El Camino Park show 6/7/75, I am almost sure it was not Humphrey. Presumably Tutt was booked elsewhere. It was notable that this was the only show I can think of during that era that was booked as Jerry Garcia/Merl Saunders rather than Legion of Mary, thus lending credence to my theory that they only used that name for the Garcia/Saunders/Kahn/Fierro/Tutt aggregation.

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  4. Crypt, this is great information. That means both that Kreutzmann drummed with them much later than I thought, and that in turn makes the hypothesis much more plausible that Humphrey was a guest to fill in the Fall 74 tour until Tutt was available. Of course, does that suggest that Sep 1 '74 was one of Humphrey's first shows?

    It's also a remarkable detail that Garcia introduced Humphrey from the stage, itself a huge rarity.

    I am intrigued also by the guest drummer at El Camino Park in June '75. Candidates might be E.W. Wainwright or Larry Vann. Wainwright's website actually says he performed with Garcia. He did play on some of the Merl Saunders studio albums with Jerry, so it isn't definitive.

    The whole subject of drummers in the JGMF/JGB is considerably less settled the more we look into it.

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  5. Yeah, I think there'll be non-linearities on the drummer side of things.

    cryptdev, thanks for a few more data points in terms of Paul Humphrey. I am going to make a note of those. There's tape of 8/23/74 to start to do some stylistic comparisons.

    I think the El Camino Park show was 6/8/75 (June 8th). If you look at the Keystone calendar for June '75, you see that the shows on the 3rd and 4th were billed as Jerry Garcia/Merl Saunders, and the ones on the 21st-22nd were billed as Legion of Mary. Menke has said that Tutt=LOM during that timeframe.

    But there are lots and lots and lots of questions. I think things were pretty ad hoc around this time.

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  6. cyptdev, Menke and another person have said Paul Humphrey was drumming at the El Camino Park show (which was on June 8th). But it's possible they just saw a black drummer and assumed it was him. Can you lay out your evaluation a little bit? It sounds like you would have remembered what he looked like specifically because of the Chateau Liberté show.

    Corry, E.W. Wainwright is known to have played with Garcia/Saunders on March 9, 1974 and March 14, 1974. There's a fragment of tape from 3/9/74 that could be used for comparison to 6/8/75, in principle. It just feels unlikely to me, but what do I know? I know I could google Larry Vann, but why do you suggest him? I don't recall seeing his name in the Garcia nexus.

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  7. Larry Vann was the drummer for Merl Saunders and Aunt Monk in 1976, so I presume he had played with Merl before then as well. Of course, if Vann ever played a show with Garcia, he might have put it on his website--everyone else does. Vann's site (he's still active) just says he worked with Merl Saunders.

    Both Wainwright or Humphrey seem plausible to me.

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  8. I'm glad to see this post! I've been a fan of Paul Humphrey probably longer than I've been seriously listening to Jerry's side projects. It's a real shame that he's typically described as the Lawrence Welk drummer when he's done so much other great stuff. He's a monster drummer -- Jimmy Smith's Root Down is a classic and one of the funkiest things you're ever likely to hear, imho, and that album list has a number of other funky jazz staples (the Blue Mitchell lp's included). I always wondered what the connection was, but Merl and/or Kahn must have known who he was and suggested him.

    One small thing: thejerrysite's gallery scan of the poster for 11/9/74 lists Kruetzman as one of of JG&MS' "friends." Can we assume that was the promoter's error/misinformation and that Humphrey was with them for that whole east coast stretch?

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  9. Another thought -- this is pure speculation, but I wonder about the 8/9/74 (or possibly 8/10) Keystone gig: the setlist is unusual both in terms of material that wasn't in the regular rotation but wasn't unique either (Lonely Ave, Are You Lonely For Me) and with regard to the length of the songs (Expressway is 23 min, Lonely for Me is 25, Lonely Ave is 27). I wondered what the impetus was for this, and now I wonder if maybe they weren't breaking in the new drummer and just getting loose on home turf with material that may have been familiar to Humphrey or that he could have picked up on the spot. thejerrysite says Billy is drumming for these Keystone shows and that Humphrey came in a few days later, but I wonder...

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  10. Nick, I like the way you are thinking about those Keystone shows. As far as what the Jerrysite says, since that list is based on the Deadbase IX list, which in turn was based on my list, I can assure you I was just guessing at the time. There's nothing definitive about TheJerrySite's drummer listings.

    It would make sense that they try out Humphrey with some easy songs. BK still played some gigs, like 8/23/74 Berkeley, since Humphrey was a busy guy. Also, I wouldn't think that 9/1/74 was his first show. However, I'll bet Humphrey was the drummer for September onwards, until Tutt replaced him in December.

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  11. Per the Ron Tutt/LOM issue, I looked at Elvis's touring schedule (http://www.elvisconcerts.com) and Tutt would have been on tour with Elvis on June 3, 4 and 8, but the Elvis tour ended on June 10. Thus the Keystone and PA shows would have had a different drummer, probably the same one. Maybe Humphrey had an encore appearance, or maybe it was someone else.

    For the record, Elvis and Ron Tutt played Tuscaloosa, AL on June 3, Houston on June 4 and Jackson, MS on June 8.

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  12. nick, thanks for your thoughts. On the November '74 tour, I'd be surprised if it were Kreutzmann, but I just don't know. That ad is interesting.

    Your questions about 8/9/74 are also interesting, and again I cannot answer. I am about to post some listening notes from that tape at my blog (jgmf.blogspot.com), but I went through it a few months ago and wasn't listening specifically for drummer's style. I should probably revisit, but there's just not enough time. What do you think?

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  13. Hey Hooterollin':
    I met Merl a few years ago at his solo gig at the House of Blues in Cambridge and he told me that he was friends with Humphrey and introduced him to JG. He also said that Humphrey would show up to play in his monochromatic leisure suits from the Welk show. Merl also told me that he was writing a book about JGB/LOM/G&S but alas, he died before it was ever released.

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  14. Keats, thanks for this great detail. Merl seems to have known a lot of people, and-helpfully-some of them were great drummers. I know he was the connection between Tutt and Kahn as well. I wish he'd written that book...

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  15. A little mention in the Oakland Tribune on 4/25/64 characterizes Paul Humphrey as an "Oaklander", so he seems to have been living up north for at least some time. This also reinforces the Merl connection. Oh, and there was mention of a stage show in SF with Humphrey performing for musical director Vince Guaraldi. Just got a chuckle out of that, I guess.

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  16. In a May 3, 1964 article, PH is characterized as the "Berkeley drummer".

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  17. By 1/16/66 he is being referred to as "former Berkleyite". Sorry to report this all serially like this, but anyway.

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  18. It's very interesting to see the Bay Area connection for Humphrey. Not only does it reinforce the Merl link, but it also explains why Humphrey might have had personal reasons for playing with Garcia and Saunders. If Humphrey had family or friends in the area, he would have enjoyed a regular Bay Area gig beyond the music and the payday.

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  19. I am pretty sure the 11/9/74 Bottom Line ad listing Bill Kreutzmann is just based on an assumption. I have no evidence that it was Humphrey and not Kreutzmann on this night, but I am about 99.9% sure, as Corry says above, that Mr. Humphrey was hired, in the first instance, to play the November '74 east coast tour. It's uncomfortable rejecting deprecating a print source in favor of a very vague interpolation, but I just think that's where the truth lies.

    I had begun going through some August '74 stuff, also in response to nick's helpful comments, but got sidetracked. I'll be returning to that month, eventually. There are a lot of date questions that month, to say nothing of personnel questions.

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  20. By the way, since I happen to have Blair's book open to this, I thought I'd note that he dates Humphrey's arrival to July 1974:

    "Beginning in July 1974, the Saunders-Garcia band had a slightly altered lineup--with Kahn, Fierro and jazz/R&B drummer Paul Humphrey-- and, for the first time, a name: the Legion of Mary" (Jackson 1999, p. 252).

    Of course, I am pretty persuaded that the last clause is incorrect. It wasn't called Legion of Mary until December 1974 at the very earliest, as far as I have been able to determine.

    I also doubt whether Humphrey arrived this early, as we are discussing in this comment thread. The Chateau Liberté show, October 11, 1974 is the earliest documented Humphrey show. He may well have been around from July, but I know of no evidence that this was the case.

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  21. Well, Blair was so far ahead of the curve on Garcia history that its easy now to look at his stuff and see where he missed the timeline in various ways, but in fact Blair was the first guy to put a stake in the ground and make any kind of sense of it at all.

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  22. I am not criticizing his work. We'd be nowhere without Blair, just as we'd be nowhere without McNally, you, Deadbase, the Jerry Site, etc.

    Maybe I just need to do a simple post (ha!) on that stuff. I have been wanting to, but it always seems so big.

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  23. Awesome. One of my favorite drum tracks that I hadn't realized was Paul Humphrey is "Black Cow" by Steely Dan. I once bought a ride cymbal based on that it sounded like the ride used during the keyboard solo in "Black Cow" (a Zildjian K dry ride). In any case, such restraint and soul in that performance. Pretty sure that beat has been sampled a bunch too.
    So, what about Buzz Buchanan? I can't find a thing about him online. He wasn't the fanciest drummer by any stretch, but I think that he fit where Jerry was at in 1978--he was digging the spirit of punk and I think Buzz's basic drumming fit that bill. Recently a 1978 show with Buzz was posted on YouTube and only then did I learn he was left handed.
    You may enjoy my blog:
    wheresthatmusiccomingfrom.blogspot.com
    I write about Dead/Garcia-related stuff, but lots of other music as well.
    I interviewed the drummer John Ware last year, who was in Michael Nesmith's amazing First National Band (three psychedelic country rock albums in a year, just after he quit the Monkees) as well as Emmylou Harris' Hot Band in the mid 70's.
    In any case, nicely done and I look forward to reading more.

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    Replies
    1. Brian, thanks for the kind words. I myself was pretty amazed when I looked into Humphrey's career in detail--it turned out that all sorts of great records that I liked had him on the traps.

      As to Buzz Buchanan, I know of a fellow blogger who interviewed him, and that will see the light of day at some point. I agree that Buzz was a good fit for the '78 iteration of the JGB, and it will be interesting to hear his perspective.

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