|Texican Badman by Peter Rowan, a 1980 Italian release on Appaloosa Records. 4 tracks were recorded with Jerry Garcia, John Kahn, David Grisman and Bill Kreutzmann in 1974, and six were recorded live in San Antonio in March 1979|
However, the aspect of the date that interests me is that the April 10, 1974 session features 4 out of 5 members of Old And In The Way, and indeed all the "permanent" members. Other than a reunion show a few weeks later at the Golden State Bluegrass Festival a few weeks later (on April 28, 1974), this would be the last time a quorum of the band played together until after Garcia's death in 1996. Although I am reduced to speculation about this event, that is after all one of the purposes of this blog, and my analysis is that the timing of this demo session says a lot about the demise of Old And In The Way and Garcia and Grisman's formation of The Great American String Band.
The Record Plant Demos, April 10, 1974
The Record Plant in Sausalito was perhaps the Bay Area's premier recording studio at the time. It was expensive to record there, and sessions would have had to be booked in advance, possibly long in advance. If Peter Rowan had recorded a demo at, say, Mickey Hart's barn, then perhaps it could have been a lark or done as a favor. Since the recording was made at the Record Plant, it had to be financed by a record company and scheduled in advance. Everybody playing or working the session would have gotten paid, albeit probably just union scale (probably $100-200 per man, depending on the length of the session).
In the days before workable home studios, record companies would pay artists to go into the studios for a session or two to lay down a sort of rough draft of their songs, so that the record company could consider whether an album might be worth making. Demo sessions were generally quick and dirty, with few overdubs. Since Rowan recorded four songs in one day, this had to be a demo session. Peter's brothers Chris and Lorin sang harmonies on some songs, so perhaps the vocal parts were dubbed, but generally speaking at a demo session the musicians ran through takes until they got a good one, and then moved on to the next song. Ideally, at least some of the musicians on the demo session would know the songs, since otherwise you have to work out arrangements and rehearse while paying for studio time, and that greatly decreases the chances for a promising demo.
The four Peter Rowan songs that featured Garcia, Grisman, Kahn and Kreutzmann were "Sweet Melinda," "While the Ocean Roars", "Awake My Love" and "On the Blue Horizon." Rowan has many albums, and I have no idea if these songs turned up on some of them. I have no idea what record company might have paid for the demo, but it was common practice at the time, seen as a way to get a look at what a songwriter's material might sound like with a full band. If you were a songwriter trying to get a contract and you got a chance to do a demo, you immediately rounded up the very best musicians amongst your friends, in order to make a killer demo and get signed. Rowan certainly bought an A-team to the session.
Other than the Old And In The Way event at the Golden State Bluegrass Festival three weeks later (well covered in detail over at JGMF), Rowan would not play with Garcia again, and I don't believe he played with Grisman again until after Garcia's death. Although I don't believe it was consciously planned by the participants, I think the Record Plant demo was a sort of "thank you and farewell" to Rowan, as Garcia and Grisman were forming a new acoustic band that explicitly cut Rowan out. Kahn was well taken care of with various Garcia projects, so Garcia and Grisman seem to have been trying to help Rowan get a record contract out of some combination of friendship and guilt.
|The first Earth Opera album, released on Elektra in 1968|
Rowan and Grisman were both East Coast teenagers who discovered bluegrass music, and both had played with established giants as young professionals. The Cape Cod born Rowan had played with Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys, and Hackensack, NJ's Grisman had toured with Red Allen and The Kentuckians. In 1967, Grisman and Rowan left bluegrass and formed a psychedelic rock band, of sorts, in Cambridge, MA called Earth Opera. Earth Opera was a quintet, and they played sort of baroque semi-acoustic psychedelic folk-rock. Rowan was the main singer and writer, and Grisman was the principal soloist, often on odd instruments like the electric mandola (the other members were Bill Stevenson-keyboards, John Nagy-bass and Paul Dillon-drums). The band released two albums on Elektra. The albums weren't that great, but they were certainly interesting.
Grisman left Earth Opera sometime in 1969, when the equipment truck blew up in Los Angeles. Rowan continued touring with the group later on in the year, with Bill Keith probably taking over the role of principal soloist on pedal steel guitar, but Rowan finally gave it up and ended up joining the group Seatrain and moving to the Bay Area by the end of '69. However, whatever caused Grisman to leave Earth Opera, it doesn't seem to have ruptured his friendship with Peter Rowan. By the middle of 1970, Grisman and his partner Richard Loren were managing Peter's younger brother Chris and Lorin, and at the suggestion of Jerry Garcia they moved to the West Coast.
As I have discussed at length elsewhere, Grisman's presence in Stinson Beach led to informal bluegrass jam sessions between Rowan, Grisman and Garcia. This in turn led to not one but two bluegrass groups: Old And In The Way and Muleskinner. There were album projects for both groups, on Reprise Records for Muleskinner and on Round for Old And In The Way, but neither came out the way they were expected. The death of Clarence White finished off any chance of a serious Muleskinner effort, and despite some fantastic live shows Old And In The Way never quite came to an agreement about how they wanted to proceed.
As JGMF has pointed out, according to McNally, the biggest barrier to continuing on with Old And In The Way after the end of 1973 was some sort of inability of Rowan and Grisman to collaborate. Clearly they were still friends, but given the complexity of building a band around Jerry Garcia's schedule, conflict between the other chief participants put an end to the group.
The Great American String Band
Garcia had expressed disappointment with how his rock star status had overwhelmed the relaxed, back porch nature of bluegrass music itself. Grisman seems to have been the instigator of a new group, The Great American String Band (aka The Great American Music Band), which seemed to be able to function with and without Garcia. The GASB took an improvised acoustic approach all styles of American music. Garcia joined in on banjo when he was available, singing an occasional tune as well. In one way, the GASB was the natural counterpart to Jerry Garcia's various electric ensembles, who took an improvised electric approach to all styles of American music.
However, there seemed to be no place for Peter Rowan in the Great American String Band. Grisman's guitar partner was David Nichtern, who among many other things had written "Midnight At The Oasis" for Maria Muldaur. Richard Greene, Rowan's old partner from the Monroe days and Seatrain, and a sometime member of OAITW, joined in on violin, and there were various bassists. Rowan himself was nowhere to be seen. The finest of scholars has determined that the Great American String Band debuted at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco on March 10, 1974.
Jerry Garcia, Peter Rowan and David Grisman
Jerry Garcia was famously non-confrontational, so I can't imagine he told Rowan "me and Grisman are forming a group and you're not in it." Grisman and Rowan were long-time friends, so I doubt he put it that way to Rowan, either. Still, by April of 1974 it must have been pretty clear that something was happening and Rowan wasn't part of it. Rowan must have been working for a rock record contract all along, so when a demo session came up, of course he wanted the best available players. On top of that, he would have wanted to impress his record company by showing that two members of the Grateful Dead were playing on his demo.
For Garcia and Grisman, playing on Rowan's demo would have been a way to help him professionally, in a way that might assuage any guilt or tension they might have felt about cutting him out of their next project. I doubt anyone spoke specifically about any of this, but it must have been hanging around in the background. Old And In The Way did have a final reunion, at the Golden State Bluegrass Festival in Marin, on April 28, 1974. The event was recorded, and there was supposed to be an album, but it never saw the light of day.
|Hayward Daily Review, April 5, 1974|
One thing that has always interested me about April 10, 1974, was that David Grisman and David Nichtern had a singular booking as a duo at Berkeley's unique Freight and Salvage club. I have always hoped, however wishfully, that Garcia made an appearance that night. I still don't think he did, but it's interesting to notice that Garcia and Grisman must have been hanging out that afternoon at The Record Plant. In any case, the fact that Grisman had a gig with David Nichtern on the same day he recorded a demo with Peter Rowan was a clear sign that he was on to the next thing. And what a thing it was, since the Great American String Band would rapidly evolve into the David Grisman Quintet, which is still breaking new ground today.
Texican Badman-Peter Rowan (Appaloosa Records, 1980)
All in all, it's hard not to get around the fact that the Texican Badman album by Peter Rowan is a strange release. 4 songs recorded on a single day in Sausalito with Garcia, Grisman, Kahn and Kreutzmann, and the six songs recorded live in San Antonio, TX in March, 1979. Even stranger, the six songs recorded in San Antonio include four by Lubbock, TX songwriter Terry Allen, and none by Rowan. One member of Rowan's band is saxophonist "Jack Bonus," known to Rowan fans as the author of "Land Of The Navajo," and known elsewise as Stephen Schuster, formerly a member of the Keith and Donna Band.
What little I do know about the Italian record industry back in the day is that copyright laws were very different. I couldn't say what they were in 1980, but n general albums could be released in Italy that were insulated from legal action from United States, UK or European entities. Thus many Italian releases were perceived as bootlegs by the rest of the Western world. It's entirely possible that the Texican Badman album was a straight up bootleg, released without the permission of anyone involved. It's also possible that the release was an early version of "self-bootlegging,' where artists provide the tapes and get some cash, leaving the record companies and publishing companies--with whom they often have no sympathy--to use the courts to get satisfaction. Generally speaking, American and UK entities were not going to sue in Italy over royalties, not for anything less than a Beatles album.
Given the obscure history of Italian albums, where details are often obscured to protect the guilty, it's not totally impossible that the April 10, 1974 date is fictitious in someway, as might be some or all of the personnel. Nonetheless, I am taking the stance that it was a real date, and the members of Old And In The Way felt they owed something to their compadre and made a demo with him at the Record Plant. Certainly, Peter Rowan went on to join his brothers as a trio and record for Asylum and has continued to have a flourishing career, so he wasn't left entirely stranded, but it's strange to think that the next-to-last stand of Old And In The Way was a rock demo at the Record Plant.