Friday, October 28, 2011

September 20, 1980: The Stone, San Francisco, CA: Bobby And The Midnites (SF debut)

My notes for the Bobby & The Midnites show at The Stone, in San Francisco, on September 20, 1980. Note that I had written "Bob Weir and The Midnites," probably how they were announced

Bob Weir had not played bars or smaller venues in the Bay Area prior to the Grateful Dead's hiatus in 1974. Once the hiatus began, however, Weir played around regularly with Kingfish, even keeping it up for a little while after the Dead began touring again in 1976. The group Kingfish went it's own way afterwards, but Weir seemed to have taken a lesson from Jerry Garcia and made a conscious effort to develop his own solo career parallel to but seprarate from the Grateful Dead. Unlike Garcia, however, who seemed to choose a jazzier and more laid back approach to his solo work, Weir made a self-conscious effort to make more focused and hard rocking music on his own than with the Grateful Dead. Put another way, from 1977 to 1984 Bob Weir played rock music and aimed to be a Rock Star. The principal vehicle for Weir's ambitions was the group Bobby And The Midnites. I was fortunate enough to see Bobby And The Midnites, on September 20, 1980, at The Stone in San Francisco, on their debut weekend. This post is a reflection on how that event appeared at the time, and the ways in which it did and did not prefigure future events in Bob Weir's career.

Heaven Help The Fool
When Arista Records signed the Grateful Dead in 1976, they also made provisions for solo records by band members. Jerry Garcia had produced Cats Under The Stars by the Jerry Garcia Band, released in early 1978. Cats was a muted, layered record, featuring all-original material in the laid back style characterized by Garcia Band performances. Weir's Heaven Help The Fool album was released in January 1978. Working with Keith Olsen in Los Angeles, producer of both Terrapin Station and Fleetwood Mac, the album featured 8 very conventional rock songs, designed for radio play. A handsome photo of Weir graced the cover, with no psychedelic designs hinting that Weir was a member of the Grateful Dead. Along with six originals, there were two cover versions ("Easy To Slip" and "I'll Be Doggone"), a record company tactic designed to give casual shoppers an idea of the music without having to hear it.The album was designed to make Weir a star like Steve Miller or Boz Scaggs.

In order to support Heaven Help The Fool, Weir went on tour with a band that included lead guitarist Bobby Cochran and organist Brent Mydland. There was a national tour in March of 1978, and a brief tour in the Fall, where Garcia first heard Brent play, thus triggering the departure of the Godchauxs. Heaven Help The Fool probably sold a few copies, and it would have made Arista money, although probably not Weir, but it never took off. In my opinion, at least, the original material by Weir and lyricist John Barlow was okay, but not strong enough to grab the ears of radio programmers or casual listeners. In 1979, with Brent Mydland now a member of the Grateful Dead, Weir had no extra-curricular performances that were open to the general public.

The cover of Bob Weir's 1978 Arista album Heaven Help The Fool
September 1980
By the Fall of 1980, the Grateful Dead had raised their profile somewhat. They had a new album on Arista, Go To Heaven, and they had recently announced that they would be playing 14 nights at San Francisco's Fox-Warfield Theater on Market Street. Bill Graham Presents had just started using the venue, and Bob Dylan had played a dozen shows there the previous year. Since Dylan had played his "Jesus songs," the performances were poorly received (I went to one--it wasn't good), but everyone loved the venue. The Grateful Dead's Warfield run was going to be from September 25-October 14, 1980, followed by shows at Radio City Music Hall in New York. Thus it was a complete surprise when Bob Weir was booked for three shows in the Bay Area from September 18-20, at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz, the Keystone Palo Alto and The Stone in San Francisco.

In 1980, the only coverage of the Grateful Dead in the press were notices in Joel Selvin's weekly Lively Arts column in the San Francisco Chronicle "Pink Section" (Datebook). Even then, there would only be a sentence or two about the Dead's upcoming concerts or new albums, since Selvin had to cover the doings of every other Bay Area band within a paragraph or two. Selvin almost never mentioned anything about Jerry Garcia's additional activities, and he certainly said nothing about Weir's.  Thus the band and the event occurred in a complete vacuum. Weir seemed to have a new band that he was taking the trouble to rehearse right before a big Dead tour, but there was no explanation as to why, nor any concept of what to expect. This was intriguing--we had to go.

Bobby And The Midnites, Mark I: Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice
The three shows were advertised as Bobby And The Midnites, although it's possible based on my own notes (above) that they may have been billed or announced as "Bob Weir and The Midnites," as I was very careful about noting that sort of thing. In any case, the advertised lineup was
  • Bobby Cochran-lead guitar, vocals
  • Bob Weir-guitar, vocals
  • Brent Mydland-keyboards, vocals
  • Tim Bogert-bass
  • Carmine Appice-drums
  • Matt Kelly-harmonica, guitar, congas
Cochran and Mydland had been in the 1978 edition of the Bob Weir Band, and Kelly had been in Kingfish, so their presence in the new band was not surprising. The real surprises were bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice. Not only were they not from the Bay Area and lacked even the faintest association with the Grateful Dead, Bogert and Appice were influential musicians whose style was the polar opposite to the Dead in many ways.

Bogert and Appice were from Long Island, and their mid-60s group The Pigeons had changed their name to Vanilla Fudge. Vanilla Fudge's big hit in 1967 had been a re-interpretation of the Supremes' "You Keep Me Hangin' On" into a slow, 7-minute rock opus with huge organ chords and loud drums and guitar. Do you recall some 60s rock music referred to as "Heavy"? Vanilla Fudge was known as the first heavy rock band. The Fudge had a ground breaking sound, taking R&B-styled music and playing it thunderously loud and slow. Bogert and Appice were one of the first rock rhythm sections to be famous as such. Vanilla Fudge sounds dated today--they sounded dated by 1969--but they were hugely influential:
  • in Denver, CO, future members of Three Dog Night heard "You Keep Me Hanging On" and realized you could make good hit music by rocking up simpler songs
  • in 1968 England, Ritchie Blackmore and some others decided to form Deep Purple with the express intent of being the "English Vanilla Fudge"
  • Also in 1968 England, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones were putting together a new band, and while they had a variety of ideas, they wanted that booming sound on the bottom that Vanilla Fudge had pioneered
  • And somewhere in America in 1969, Jeff Beck heard Vanilla Fudge and loved Bogert and Appice, and decided to break up his band, planning to form a new group with Rod Stewart, Bogert and Appice (replacing Nicky Hopkins, Ronnie Wood and Tony Newman)
So Bogert and Appice weren't just from Long Island rather than San Francisco, but musically they were in complete contrast to the San Francisco Sound. Bogert and Appice hadn't been quite as successful in the 1970s, but they were still prominent. Due to record company obligations that could not be refused, Vanilla Fudge could not break up until March 1970. By that time, Jeff Beck had been in a major auto accident that sidelined him for two years, and Rod Stewart had gone solo, so Bogert and Appice had formed the group Cactus, a hard rocking ensemble who never really managed to become a headline act. Bogert and Appice's penchants for extended solos were bought to the fore in Cactus, who only had two gears--fifth and overdrive.

Bogert and Appice did finally tour some with Jeff Beck, in a high-powered trio called Beck, Bogert and Appice in 1972-73, but the albums and tours never reached the heights that the band members had hoped for. Bogert and Appice then played on various projects separately and together throughout the 1970s, on tour and in the studio. Ironically, Appice had ended up as the drummer for Rod Stewart's touring band, and Stewart and Appice had co-written "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy," a huge hit, but not Stewart's deepest moment as a vocal interpreter.

Thus it was quite surprising to see Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice playing at some bars in the San Francisco Bay Area with members of the Grateful Dead.I am now aware of a possible Bobby and The Midnites show on June 30, 1980, at the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach, but I knew nothing about this show at the time, so I have no idea who was in the group in June, or if they were even billed as Bobby and The Midnites. I do know that Weir and Cochran had met Alphonso Johnson and Billy Cobham in 1979 (the subject of another post), and broached the idea of "Bobby And The Midnites," but I do not know (nor did I then) whether Bogert and Appice were part of the plan or just interim members.

September 20, 1980: The Stone, San Francisco, CA
The Stone was the third leg of Freddie Herrera's Keystone empire, larger than either Keystone Berkeley or Keystone Palo Alto, with a capacity of about 700. It had only opened earlier in the year, and this was the first time I or any of my friends had been there. There was a dance floor up front, and tables on raised platforms in the back, similar to Keystone Palo Alto.  In contrast to Berkeley, which just sold beer, The Stone was a hard liquor bar. It was on Broadway in North Beach, amidst all the topless clubs. Keystone Berkeley was a funky dive, but it had a hippie/college-town feel. The Stone was a sleazy dive, with a big hair and big shoes feel, more uptempo than Berkeley but harder edged as well.

We got to The Stone early enough to get a nice table on the second tier. There was a decent crowd, but I don't recall it being sold out. The sightlines were excellent. Because we were early, we got to sit through an unmemorable opening set by the Kevin Barry Band, who, to the extent I recall, played would-be "arena rock" in a Journey/REO style. Bobby And The Midnites had debuted in Santa Cruz, 90 miles South of San Francisco, on a Thursday night. If there were any bugs, they were fixed out of town. For veterans like Bogert, Appice and the rest of the band, by night three at The Stone they were going to be road ready. Of course, without an internet or anything else we had no idea what to expect.

Weir and the band made their way on stage at a reasonable hour--unlike certain other members of the Grateful Dead--and launched into "Poison Ivy," by The Coasters. This had been a regular cover by the Bob Weir Band, so it wasn't a surprising start. Knowing what we know today, it is interesting to recall that the Dead had backed The Coasters for a week at The In Room in Belmont in September 1965, and here was Weir playing a Coasters song 15 years later. Probably no one in the crowd knew this at the time, but Weir probably had a personal affection for the song unrelated to the fact that it was fun to sing and play. Bogert and Appice were solid and funky on the bottom end, as expected, but did not overwhelm the sound as if they were in Vanilla Fudge or something.

However, as the show wore on, it became clear that the setlist was a mixture of original numbers from Heaven Help The Fool and covers that Weir had done with the Bob Weir Band or Kingfish.
Set I
Poison Ivy
See See Rider
Big Iron
Bombs Away
Easy To Slip
Supplication>
  drums>
 All I Need Is Time
Promised Land

Set II
Juke
Minglewood Blues
I Found Love
Heaven Help The Fool
This Time Forever>
 Shade Of Gray
I'll Be Doggone
Wrong Way Feeling

One More Saturday Night
While "See See Rider," "Supplication,""Minglewood" and "One More Saturday Night" had all been performed by the Dead, Weir had performed them all with Kingfish or his own band, so there were no surprises. All the songs were well played, and they weren't note for note, but there was no jamming as such. The Midnites had a much more commercial hard rock sound, intentionally separating themselves from the more diffuse, improvisational sound of the Dead. Initially I was glad that Bogert and Appice did not play like they had with Jeff Beck, but by the end I was hoping they would step out and make things more interesting, whatever the results. I suspect there was some impropvised jamming after the drum solo (before "All I Need Is Time") but I don't recall it and I didn't make a note of it.

In general, I enjoyed the show. I recognized that Weir, similar to Garcia, had made a self-conscious decision to play music that was distinctly different than the Grateful Dead. He certainly had the looks and chops to play conventional "AOR Rock," and not to make it stupid. But it still wasn't that memorable. I didn't see Bobby And The Midnites and go "wow, I've got to see them again." Since I hadn't seen the Bob Weir Band in 1978, it was fun to hear some of the Heaven Help The Fool songs live, but I still didn't think the songs were as catchy as, say, Steve Miller or Fleetwood Mac, which was the audience they appeared to be driving for.

The feel on the stage was that Weir and Bobby Cochran were driving the band, and everyone else was acting as a sideman. Cochran took a lead vocal on his own slow blues, "I Found Love," which he had performed with the Bob Weir Band, and took most of the solos. Brent only sang a few harmonies and took the occasional brief organ solo, and sang no songs of his own. Some years later, I found out that Cochran had recorded "I Found Love" an an album on Mercury in 1977 by a group called Sierra, who were the re-named Flying Burrito Brothers, who then re-re-named themselves the Flying Burrito Brothers again the next year.

Aftermath
This lineup of Bobby and The Midnites went on to do a brief 5-date East Coast tour (from November 1-7), right after the conclusion of the Radio City Grateful Dead shows. They played small auditioriums like the Capitol Theater in Passaic. I have no idea whether the shows were well attended, but Dead spinoff acts were always popular in the Northeast. I have heard a circulating audience tape of a Midnites show from Boston's Orpheum Theater on November 4, 1980, and the sound jibes with my distant memories, regular Weir arrangements with some fast tempos and rockin' oomph from Bogert and Appice, Cactus-style. The Midnites did another tour in January of 1981, six dates in California from January 25-31 (the three Keystones, Pasadena, UCLA and finally Davis). The band then disappeared from sight, with no mention of their plans.

Bobby and The Midnites reappeared with a new studio album on Arista in November, 1981. Bogert and Appice had been replaced by the even more impressive pair of Alphonso Johson on bass and Billy Cobham on drums. Although both of those guys could play any music imaginable, it was very interesting to see them playing straight ahead rock instead of fusion or modern jazz. Mydland and Kelly were on the album, but neither of them were on the tour that commenced in January 12 of 1982, as session keyboard man Dave Garland (ex-Big Foot) joined the group. Bobby and The Midnites took a genuine stab at conventional rock stardom over the next 18 months, but it was not to be.  While there have been a fair number of interviews with Weir about the Midnites over the years, he has never really said anything specific to my knowledge about how he met Bogert and Appice, whether they were supposed to be permanent members of the group, or anything else about them. Bogert did play with Weir one more time, at a benefit show at the Perkins Palace in Pasadena on March 10, 1983, but very little is known about that show either.

As to Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice, they have continued to be bona fide rock legends, but I have never seen a comment from either of them about playing with Bob Weir. In itself, this is not surprising, since they have played with literally dozens of true rock legends, and hung out with most of the rest of them (savvy readers will recall Frank Zappa's tale of a chance meeting between Don Preston and the Vanilla Fudge at the Chicago O'Hare airport...). Thus whenever either of them are interviewed, Hendrix, Zeppelin, Beck, the Fudge, Zappa, Rod Stewart and numerous others take precedence and the subject of a few dates with Bob Weir some decades ago never comes up.



2 comments:

  1. Quick correction: Cats Under the Stars was not released in late '77. It was ca. February 1978, I think.

    ReplyDelete