Friday, November 25, 2011

NRPS with Keith and Donna Godchaux, 1973

An ad in the Feb 22 '73 Village Voice, assuring that 'Special Friends' would join the New Riders
Keith Godchaux was a brilliant piano player for most of his time with the Grateful Dead and the Jerry Garcia Band, but by all accounts he was very shy. Indeed, without his wife he would never have been in the Grateful Dead at all. Keith could be a brilliant improviser, and one unfortunate byproduct of his shyness was the fact that he played very rarely with anyone outside the Grateful Dead or Jerry Garcia, so we rarely heard what he could add to other bands. One of the few markers of Keith's versatility was several occasions where he sat in with the New Riders of The Purple Sage in the Spring of 1973. Keith's appearances with the New Riders were too frequent to be mere coincidence, but have never really been discussed anywhere, to my knowledge. This post will attempt to rectify that by making a list of Keith's performances with the New Riders and attempting to draw some conclusions about his appearances.

When Keith Godchaux joined the Grateful Dead for their first tour in Fall 1971, the New Riders of The Purple Sage opened almost every show. However, the New Riders were in a state of transition, replacing Jerry Garcia on pedal steel guitar with Buddy Cage. It would not seem like the time to let a piano player sit in while getting used to a new member. In any case, I believe the 1971 tour to be the only one where Keith toured without Donna, and if Keith was as shy as he was reputed to be, he would not have been the sort to go up to the New Riders, whom he had (relatively speaking) just met, and say "hey, I'd love to sit in with you some time." The Dead and the New Riders continued to play together periodically throughout 1972, so by the end of the year, Keith would have had ample opportunity to hear all their material.

Donna Godchaux had a more forthright personality. On the New Riders' third album, Gypsy Cowboy, recorded in mid-1972, she sang harmony vocals on a few songs. In fact, Donna was an obvious choice, given that she was an experienced Mussel Shoals session singer (she sang on Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds" and the first Boz Scaggs album, for example), and she was a friend of the band. More importantly, however, the sociable Donna would surely have made clear to the Riders that she would be delighted to sing on their records, and the band was all the better for it.

By late 1972, the New Riders of The Purple Sage were at an interesting crossroads. I myself was a huge New Riders fan, and as a naive suburban High School student who knew almost nothing about country music, the Riders seemed somewhat more unique than they actually were. I have to think, however, that my naivete was duplicated in suburbs all over the country, and there was an opportunity for country rock bands to capture fans who could appreciate country music as long as it had a long-haired sensibility not rooted in Nashville. On record, the New Riders sounded great, as Buddy Cage and David Nelson layered as many guitars as needed to get a rich sound. As the New Riders had gotten more popular, however, and played larger and larger venues, the fact was they had started to sound kind of tinny. In fact, there were significant piano contributions on both their second and third albums, respectively (Nicky Hopkins and, oddly, Jerry Garcia on Powerglide and Mark Naftalin on Gypsy Cowboy), so the Riders were clearly aware of what a grand piano added to their sound.

John Dawson had basically been a folksinger prior to forming the New Riders, and in the early days of the band his lack of experience in a group really showed. However, as the New Riders continued to tour, Dawson became a more productive part of the group, but he was always more of a singer than a guitar player. By late 1972, Dawson could hold down his rhythm guitar parts all right, but he wasn't any kind of jammer. Since the New Riders consciously aspired to a version of the Bakersfield sound, Dave Torbert and Spencer Dryden tended to a spare sound that was in distinct contrast to the likes of Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzmann. As a result, in a big place, when the band was rocking out on a solo, the New Riders sounded a bit thin with just Cage and Nelson spreading their wings. Onstage at least, a piano seemed like a logical addition, particularly if the guy could really honky tonk.

A partial scan of a 1974 bootleg lp of the March 18 '73 NRPS Felt Forum show
March 18, 1973, Felt Forum, New York, NY
The New Riders had a high profile show in Manhattan at the Felt Forum, which was housed in Madison Square Garden. The show was broadcast on WNEW-fm, New York's biggest rock radio station, and a Village Voice advertisement (up top) broadly hinted that the Dead would be sitting in. In fact, the entire broadcast was tremendous. The most memorable part today was a brief acoustic set in which Garcia (on banjo) and Weir led the Riders through a series of gospel-style bluegrass numbers, including "Swing Low Sweet Chariot." However, the entire set is a gem, featuring the classic New Riders with Dave Torbert, in their prime, including periodic guest appearances by Donna Godchaux, Bob Weir, Jerry Garcia (on electric guitar) and Ramblin' Jack Elliott (who opened the show). Nonetheless, the lasting impression for me was that Keith Godchaux sat in on grand piano for almost every song, and the New Riders sound is infinitely richer and more powerful with Keith's presence.

The Grateful Dead were between shows at the Nassau Coliseum, and their "surprise appearance" was clearly planned. That is particularly true with respect to Keith, since grand pianos have to be rented, delivered and tuned, and aren't simply hanging around a venue waiting to be played. Since Keith sat in on a grand, it wasn't a casual event. Whoever suggested that Keith sit in with the Riders, however, clearly knew what the band needed. Since the show was broadcast on WNEW, some of it ended up getting bootlegged on a white-label record, and I purchased it in about 1974. I was absolutely amazed at how great the New Riders sounded with Keith, and I couldn't understand why they didn't either use him as often as possible or get their own piano player.

A ticket for the Apr 4 '73 NRPS show at Clark U
April 4, 1973 Atwood Hall, Clark University, Worcester, MA (early and late shows)
It turns out I wasn't the only person who thought Keith sounded great with the New Riders. The Grateful Dead ended a leg of their tour on April 2, 1973, playing with the Riders at Boston Garden. Although the Dead and their crew must have gone home, Keith and Donna seem to have stuck with the Riders. When the New Riders headlined at Clark University, Keith played piano for the whole show. On top of that, not only did Donna provide harmonies on "She's No Angel" (early show) and "Long Black Veil" (late), but for both shows she took a solo turn, singing lead on Loretta Lynn's "You Ain't Woman Enough To Take My Man."

If Donna took a lead vocal, this wasn't no casual sit-in, this was a plan. Furthermore, since Keith played great piano, that too was not casual, since the piano had to be rented, delivered and tuned. Interestingly enough, the New Riders released highlights of the Clark U shows on an archival cd. To my ears, much as I love the sound of Keith with the Riders, the band sounds kind of ragged to me. From that point of view, I think releasing the Felt Forum show would have been better, but of course I already had that.

April 7, 1973 McGonigle Hall, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA (early and late)
Apparently, Keith and Donna also played at another New Riders show, at Temple University a few days later. The New Riders site is good as far as it goes, but I think there is a strong likelihood that Keith and Donna also played other dates as well (such as an unknown venue in Philadelphia on April 6 and Queens College in Flushing on April 9). The site lists Keith as playing electric piano on both early and late shows at Temple, and Donna as singing backups on a few numbers as well as singing lead on "You Ain't Woman Enough." I have a feeling that Keith and Donna played with the New Riders for the entire April leg of the tour, but I am unable to confirm any of that, or even be certain of all the dates.

May 26, 1973 Kezar Stadium, San Francisco, CA
The New Riders of The Purple Sage opened for the Grateful Dead and Waylon Jennings at Bill Graham's inaugural Day On The Green. According to one internet commentator, Keith sat in on piano. I have nothing else to go on, but it seems logical. Given that he had played with the Riders the month before, and that his piano was there, it seems logical that he would sit in. I wonder if Keith had sat in the week before at Santa Barbara (May 20)?

Update: a Commenter reports that Keith played on March 30 and 31 in Boston, but did not play in Santa Barbara (May 20) or Kezar (May 26). I suspect we have yet more Keith sightings with the Riders yet to be found in the March/April time frame.

Was There A Plan?
I don't think there was anything accidental about Keith sitting in with the New Riders, but I don't know how calculated it was. It is Keith's shyness that makes me certain that there had to be a concerted effort to get him to sit in. The interesting part to me would be how much of Keith's presence could be attributed to musical fun and how much might be attributed to other plans. In mid-1973, the Dead and the New Riders still shared management (through Jon McIntire) and a booking agency (through Sam Cutler). At the very least, there may have been a general awareness that the New Riders sounded better on stage with Keith on piano, particularly in a big place.

More interesting, however, would be the idea that since the New Riders had been created with some members of the Grateful Dead, perhaps they would have a higher profile if some other members continued to be adjuncts to the New Riders. Keith and Donna weren't Jerry Garcia and Mickey Hart, but they were members of the Dead and they added a lot to the New Riders on stage. Keep in mind also that if Keith and Donna had toured with some regularity with the New Riders, they would have gotten paid. I don't know how much of course, but other than Garcia and perhaps Weir, the members of the Dead were not well-off, and if Keith and Donna could have made a little money touring periodically with the New Riders, they might have appreciated it. Certainly the New Riders would have sounded better for it.

What Happened?
The history of the New Riders Of The Purple Sage is not that well documented, particularly after Jerry Garcia left the band. However, I think in late 1973 the New Riders shifted over to new management, although I am unable to define an exact timeline. Their new manager was Joe Kerr, who had been a college friend of George "Commander Cody" Frayne. Kerr was the manager of Commander Cody as well, and by 1974 Kerr was managing both groups. From mid-1973 onwards, Commander Cody and the New Riders played a lot of double bills together, particularly on the East Coast.

Cody went way back with the Riders--in fact he had played on their debut album (NRPS). When the Riders and the Airmen were billed together, often Cody sat in for the end of the show. The New Riders site identifies a few instances, but I think it was a pretty regular occurrence. The band would just leave the piano on stage, and Cody could join them at the appropriate points. I was fortunate enough to see Cody and the New Riders open for the Grateful Dead (at the Oakland Coliseum Stadium on June 8, 1974), and Cody sat in with the New Riders for a few numbers and sounded great. If there had been a plan afoot to have a regular guest piano player with the New Riders, the regular bookings with Commander Cody seemed to have filled that bill.

If there was ever a plan to have an ongoing relationship between Keith and Donna Godchaux and the New Riders of The Purple Sage, it appears that the change in New Riders management diverted them in another direction. It's really too bad, since the New Riders needed an booster shot after Dave Torbert left at the end of 1973, and Keith and Donna would have given them a different direction. It's impossible to say what might have been planned, or what might have happened. However, I cannot help but think that there are a number of New Riders dates in the Spring of 1973 where Keith and Donna were part of the band, and I hope to be able to pursue this in the Comments.

On May 23 and 24, 1975, the New Riders of The Purple Sage headlined at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, and the newly-formed Keith and Donna Band opened the show. It would be very interesting to know if Keith or Donna sat in for either show. The NRPS set has a setlist for the first night (May 23), which mentions nothing about either of them, although it does namecheck old friend Darlene DiDomenico joining in for "Whiskey," which suggests that there is a tape for that night at least. Given the divergent paths of the Dead and the New Riders by 1975, I wouldn't draw any specific conclusions from Keith's presence or absence, but it would still be interesting to know.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Johnny d'Fonseca Jr-drums

The 2004 Jerry Garcia Band cd After Midnight, recorded on February 28, 1980 with Johnny d'Fonseca Jr on drums
Johnny d'Fonseca Jr. was the drummer for the Jerry Garcia Band for a modest period of time in 1979 and 1980. He debuted with the JGB at the Keystone Berkeley on October 7, 1979, and his final show with the band was at the very same venue on March 27, 1980. In between d'Fonseca played on the East Coast tour in February 1980, including a show at Kean College in Union, NJ on February 28, 1980 that was released on Rhino Records as After Midnight in 2004. d'Fonseca was only about twenty years old at the time, but he was a fine drummer with a spare, swinging style that was reminiscent of Ronnie Tutt. Sadly, d'Fonseca died in an auto accident shortly after that, and a promising musical career was cut short along with his life. As a result, Garcia fans tend not to think about him much, not least because it's hard not to feel sad about it. However, despite his young age, d'Fonseca has a unique status in the Garcia universe that is worthy of note, so this post will attempt to accumulate the available information about him and celebrate his brief career.

Overview: Robert Hunter on Johnny d'Fonseca Jr.
The liner notes to the After Midnight set are written by the opening act, one Robert Hunter. Amidst some other interesting observations, Hunter says
Little Johnny Dee was the son of Big Johnny Dee, a jolly Jamaican carpenter who built Mickey's studio in the pastures of Novato. I remember Little Johnny as a quiet kid who grew up around the scene and liked to work out on Mickey's drum kit, which was always set up in the studio, getting tips from the master along the way. This tour was his first chance at the big time. It was damned sweet of Jerry to hand it to him, and the kid proved adequate to the chance. Johnny, Sr., had died a while before (cancer, I think) and Johnny, Jr., didn't have long to live, with a car wreck soon to write Paid to his future, but at least he got a chance to do his dream for a while.
Hunter, as usual, sums up the story succinctly and touchingly, but with clear eyes. Johnny d'Fonseca Jr grew up on Mickey Hart's ranch, practiced on Mickey's drums, with some advice from Mickey along the way, and ended up playing drums with Garcia, coming up through the farm system in the best possible way. Although details are few, it's still a nice story.

Johnny d'Fonseca Sr
Johnny d'Fonseca Sr was the brother of Grateful Dead manager Ron Rakow's wife, Lydia. Johnny Sr seems to have joined the scene around 1969, and according to McNally he was the caretaker and carpenter of Mickey Hart's ranch in Novato. While I think that d'Fonseca was focused on the building side of the equation rather than the electronic side, there were plenty of engineers in the Grateful Dead crew, so that aspect of the studio was covered. However, if a mixing board was getting rained on because the roof leaked, no amount of electronic wizardry was going to help. I assume that d'Fonseca Sr also kept the ranch going while Hart was on the road with the Grateful Dead in the 69-71 period.

Besides working for Mickey in Novato, d'Fonseca Sr seems to have taken on the role of "House Carpenter" formerly held down by Laird "Barney" Grant. Grant, a childhood friend of Garcia's from school days in Menlo Park, had been the Dead's first roadie, but he didn't like the travel. In the end, he stayed home and handled carpentry and construction work for the band in their rehearsal studio and presumably elsewhere. In 1972, Garcia brought Grant some land in Mendocino as a thirtieth birthday present, so d'Fonseca Sr seems to have taken over the carpentry role after Grant moved North. I believe De Fonsesca Sr did some construction work on Front Street Studios in the 1970s, which was just a big warehouse when the Garcia Band started rehearsing there in the middle of the decade.

D'Fonseca Sr is thanked on at least a couple of albums. On Mickey Hart's 1972 Rolling Thunder album, recorded at Mickey's ranch, "Special Thanks" are given to Rock Scully, Johnny D and others. On the 1974 Hunter album Tales Of The Great Rum Runners, the album liner notes thank "Johnny D Jr and Sr," a sign of how embedded in the scene the d'Fonseca's were. d'Fonseca must have been a young teenager then, and it had to be pretty heady to see yourself namechecked on the back of an album. There are some nice pictures of d'Fonseca Jr on the After Midnight album, and he looks pretty Italian to me, not surprising considering his name. How Italians ended up in Jamaica is somewhat of a mystery, but that of course is what makes islands interesting places.

The 1980 JGB and Johnny d'Fonseca Jr
I have never quite been able to figure out when Johnny d'Fonseca Jr was born, but supposedly he was not much older than twenty when he died. Since Hart bought the Novato ranch in 1969, d'Fonseca Jr would have been about 9 or so when he started going there. I don't know for a fact that Jr lived at the ranch the entire time, or even if he lived there at all, but he clearly spent a lot of time there growing up. As a result, he would have been comfortable with Garcia in a way that most twenty-somethings in 1980 would not have been. Veteran musicians like Ron Tutt or Paul Humphrey had no problem dealing with Garcia as a fellow professional, but Garcia had been a rock star since 1966, and for most younger, inexperienced musicians, that would have been hard to get past.

Without question, Garcia placed a high premium on having people in his band who he not only got along well with, but were easy going, low-maintenance band members. In most cases, this meant using fellow pros who were Garcia's age or even older. D'Fonseca was an exception, being so young, but since he probably treated Garcia like a friendly uncle, the vibe would have been much more low key than some star-struck kid. D'Fonseca Jr was a solid drummer, though not great, but his style was good for the band. Hunter called him "adequate to the chance," and given the musical challenges of playing with the constantly improvising Garcia, that's a pretty good benediction for a young player. If d'Fonseca could hold down the chair in 1980, he would have only gotten better with more opportunities.

Prior to playing with the Garcia Band, d'Fonseca Jr had played with a Marin County group called Logos. Originally formed in 1970, the band featured guitarist/songwriter Bernie Chiaravalle and bassist John Lovrien, along with various other people. Initially, the band apparently sounded like Soundhole, who backed Van Morrison for a while. Logos played the Marin club circuit for many years, and d'Fonseca joined the band in 1976. He stayed for three more years, but apparently left Logos when the opportunity to join the Garcia Band came up. Apparently, due to d'Fonseca's connections, Logos had recorded with Mickey Hart in his Novato barn, and they even released a single "Glad To Know." The Bay-Area-Band site has considerably more detail, including a photo of De Foncesca with Logos. Logos was a popular local band, and played gigs like the Lion's Share in San Anselmo and the inaugural Haight Street Fair in 1978. Bernie Chiaravalle's site has some good photos of the band in that period. (A 1986 Relix Records Robert Hunter album, Rock Columbia, lists d'Fonseca as the drummer, but since he had passed away several years earlier I assume this was some sort of error).

Jerry Garcia and John Kahn had mothballed the Jerry Garcia Band after November 4, 1978. When Keith and Donna Godchaux left the Grateful Dead, Kahn had started the jazz-rock band Reconstruction. Garcia was advertised as a "guest" of Reconstruction. The idea, according to Kahn, was that Reconstruction would continue to play with guitarists other than Garcia, and then perhaps Garcia would guest occasionally. There were in fact a few Reconstruction gigs without Garcia, in August of 1979, but it's unclear how much they actually played without him. The last Reconstruction show featuring Garcia was at Keystone Berkeley on September 22, 1979. Garcia and Kahn debuted their new lineup of the Jerry Garcia Band at the same venue two weeks later, on October 7, 1979.

The 1979 edition of the Jerry Garcia Band was a simple quartet, with keyboardist Ozzie Ahlers and d'Fonseca Jr on drums. Ahlers had played with Jesse Colin Young, The Edge (with Lorin Rowan) and Robert Hunter's Comfort. I assume Garcia had heard Ahlers play with Comfort when they opened for Garcia in 1978. While there was an obvious economic component to the quartet, in that a four-piece featuring local players like Ahlers and d'Fonseca was potentially more profitable than a six or seven piece lineup with backup singers and the like, I think Reconstruction was a factor as well. According to Kahn's original plan, Reconstruction and the JGB would have co-existed, with Garcia making occasional guest appearances with the former. If that had panned out, Garcia would have had a vehicle for playing some pretty far out music on the side, so it would have fit for him to have a simpler Garcia Band. However, by the time October 1979 rolled around, Reconstruction seems to have lost any momentum to sustain itself without Jerry on the bill.

"After Midnight-Eleanor Rigby"
The 1979-80 JGB played a pretty conventional setlist. They kept "Dear Prudence" from Reconstruction, and added back Bob Dylan's "Masterpiece," which Garcia hadn't played in a while.  However, the one really memorable song the band added to the Garcia repertoire was an instrumental version of "Eleanor Rigby" embedded within "After Midnight." Since all but a few connected tapers would have heard prior shows, when the JGB dropped the melody on unsuspecting fans, it always brought down the house, as you can hear by listening to any tape from that period. According to the JerrySite, the debut of the AM>ER jam was February 2, 1980 at The Stone in San Francisco, although it's possible that the jam had been hinted at earlier. When tapes started to circulate around, the "Eleanor Rigby" jam stood out.

Unfortunately, by the time most fans had gotten their hands on a tape of "After Midnight>"Eleanor Rigby jam>"After Midnight," Johnny d'Fonseca Jr had died in an auto accident. I recall no article that said that Jerry Garcia's drummer had died in an accident, and when Greg Errico was the drummer for a brief Summer tour, I just assumed it was the usual changing of the guard in the JGB drummer's chair. I presume that JGB was committed to some East Coast dates, so when d'Fonseca died, they had little choice but to hire super-sub Greg Errico, playing a few local dates to go along with it. The Errico-JGB played some decent sounding shows, but they didn't play the "Eleanor Rigby," jam, leaving that as a legacy of the Johnny d'Fonseca Jr iteration of the Jerry Garcia band.

Looking backwards, it's easy to fall into the trap of being maudlin: Johnny d'Fonseca Jr grew up around Mickey Hart's ranch, and Mickey was effectively his drum tutor, and just as he got his chance to play with Jerry Garcia, he died unexpectedly in a car accident. It's sad when anyone dies in a car accident, young or not, and that shouldn't be taken lightly. I try and look at it the other way, however, and say that Johnny d'Fonseca Jr was looking for a bite of the apple, like most of us, and he got one, which many of us never do. Listen to Jerry lead the band into "Eleanor Rigby" and back out to "After Midnight," and think about the nice groove that little Johnny Dee was laying down, because that is how he probably hoped to be known.

Friday, November 11, 2011

September 25, 1980: Fox-Warfield Theater, San Francisco, CA "Ripple" (That's Otis)

The front cover of the Grateful Dead's April, 1981 release Reckoning
(Update: Touching as all the events I describe here may be, I am actually describing something that happened in my mind and not in real life. Thanks to various commenters, it appears that Bob Weir's dog Otis walked on stage the second night of the Warfield run [September 26], not the first [September 25], which I describe here. So my description of the first night at the Warfield seems to be accurate, and my description of Otis coming on stage is very vivid, but they happened on two separate nights. Some decades ago I "discovered" that the Otis event was on September 25, and simply merged the events in my mind. Although I have a firm and cherished memory of this, it isn't true, however much I believe it to be so. This conflation is a good example of how we can have reservations when some Commenter insists that they did or did not see the Dead play "Dark Star" on a given night, or that they played a certain venue, or that Jimi Hendrix appeared on stage.

I am leaving the post intact as a marker for my clear yet wrong memory)

On the Grateful Dead release Reckoning, recorded at the Fox-Warfield Theater in San Francisco and Radio City Music Hall in New York in September and October 1980, the final track is "Ripple." The released version of the song was recorded the very first night of the run, on September 25, 1980. In the middle of the song, there is an audible cheer from the crowd, and then shortly afterwards a huge round of applause. Jerry Garcia, uniquely talking to the audience while playing, says "That's Otis." Otis, Bob Weir's dog, had walked on stage to the amusement of the crowd. Although Otis was not the most famous on-stage guest ever at a Grateful Dead performance, he was still an interesting one. Since I was fortunate enough to be at the show that night, I thought I would describe this event of world historical importance in greater detail.

The Fox-Warfield Theater
In the Summer of 1980, the Grateful Dead had announced that they would be playing an incredible 14 nights at the Fox-Warfield Theater in San Francisco. The Fox-Warfield was at 982 Market Street (at 6th Street), in a once-glamorous but by-then-sleazy part of downtown. The theater had been newly restored, and in 1979 Bill Graham Presents had begun using it for select shows. In particular, in November of 1979 Bob Dylan had played twelve nights there. In fact, since Dylan insisted on playing only his material from Slow Train Coming and Saved, the shows were poorly received. I saw one of them, and it was definitely not good, in a willful Dylan way, but like everyone else I was impressed with the venue.

Back in 1980, the Fox-Warfield was a fully seated venue, with a capacity of about 2200. After some renovations around 1983, the name was changed to "The Warfield" and the downstairs had an open dance floor and tiered tables in the back, but back during the original run all patrons had reserved seats. The Grateful Dead had played seated venues in the Bay Area a few times in the 1970s, but not often. They had played 4 nights at the Berkeley Community Theater in 1972, and six nights at the Orpheum Theatre (at 1192  Market Street at 8th) in 1976, but the Fox-Warfield was smaller than either venue. Expectations ran high, and tickets were only available by mail order, also a first for the Bay Area.

My friend and I put our order in, and ended up with tickets for several nights. We were fortunate to get balcony seats for the very first night. Although the neighborhood was dubious, with Mike's faithful black lab snoozing in the back of his VW van (RIP Shadow, wherever you are, buddy), there was not going to be a problem. The first show of a Grateful Dead run or tour were always exciting, but this first night was truly special. The entire crowd was excited, but since we all had seats there wasn't the air of physical tension that came from trying to save or carve out space on a crowded floor.

The back cover to Reckoning, showing the Dead's 1980 acoustic set-up
The Acoustic Set
No one really knew whether the Grateful Dead were going to do anything other than play their usual two sets,but we all hoped for something different. Joel Selvin, in his San Francisco Chronicle column, had alluded to the possibility of acoustic sets, but there was no way to know for sure. Obviously, a few people close to the band knew that the Grateful Dead were rehearsing acoustically, but without an internet there was no way to know any of that. Thus when we walked down to our seats in the theater balcony and saw the acoustic instruments set up in front of the electric equipment, we knew we were going to see something different, and this added to the buzz of expectation in the house. The Dead's acoustic equipment was set up in a sort of semi-circle in front of the Dead's main gear. Garcia and Weir were in the center, with Phil Lesh mostly standing behind them, and Brent off to stage left playing piano, while the drummers played slimmed down kits in front of their regular trap sets.

Like all good Deadheads, Mike and I devoted ourselves to guessing the first song. For once, instead or merely deciding between "Promised Land" or "Alabama Getaway," we knew we were looking at the first acoustic set in 10 years (not counting the Chicago set in '78). Anything was possible. It was a rare moment to be guaranteed that it would be something we had never seen, in the sense that neither Mike nor I had ever seen an acoustic set. Mike took the high road, and decided that they would open with "Uncle John's Band," and I decided that they would start with something easy, and went with "Dark Hollow." We were both wrong.

The magical moment when the entire crowd realized after the first few notes that the Dead were doing an acoustic version of "Bird Song" stands as one of my most memorable experiences as a Deadhead. So often, the Dead made magic on random nights out in the hinterlands, while making the dumbest song choices for high profile events. Yet here they were, with sky-high expectations for an historic run that included their first real acoustic set in a decade, and they played a song that not only had never been played acoustically, few in the crowd had probably ever been graced with a live version of it. To top it off, "Bird Song" is a great Dead song in almost everyone's book, and it was truly magical when the band met the challenge to choose a cool song and exceeded it.

After "Bird Song," nothing could go wrong. Remember that from the crowd's perspective, every song was a surprise. The actual 35-minute set was
Bird Song ;

I've Been All Around This World ;

Dark Hollow ;

Rosalie McFall ;

Monkey And The Engineer ;

It Must Have Been The Roses ;

Jack-A-Roe ;

Oh Babe It Ain't No Lie >

Ripple ;
When Garcia and Weir started up "Ripple," everybody knew that it was the end of the set. While "Ripple" is actually a trivial song, it gave everyone a warm fuzzy feeling, and it was a night to be warm and fuzzy. There was still one surprise left, however, when Bob Weir's dog Otis wandered onto the stage [as I pointed out above, this actually happened the next night, September 26, which I also attended, and I have simply merged the two nights in my memory].

Otis was a fairly large Siberian husky mix, very handsome and regal, and like most of his breed he appeared friendly but indifferent to the needs and concerns of mere humans, even one who claimed to "own" him. For whatever reason, Otis got tired of standing on stage right and watching and calmly strolled onto the stage, towards Weir. The first roar you hear on "Ripple" is Otis coming onto the stage. Weir heard the roar and looked up from his guitar to see Otis standing in the center of the stage, staring at him. Glaring at his dog, albeit while suppressing a smile, Weir angrily pointed offstage.

Otis stared back at Weir, and then turned to the audience. With the royal disdain of a Siberian Husky, and with Weir gesturing for him to get offstage, Otis gave a gigantic doggie yawn--"who cares what that guy thinks," he seemed to be saying. Since everyone in the tiny Warfield could see the yawn, the entire crowd went crazy, and all the members of the Grateful Dead busted a gut laughing. The second, louder cheer you hear on "Ripple" is for the yawn. At that juncture, a laughing Garcia announced "that's Otis!," confirming the dog's immortality.

Ultimately Otis got Weir's message and drifted offstage. Somebody on the crew led him off when he got near the edge, but Otis was alone on stage for 30 seconds to a minute, a long time for a dog. In less than 40 minutes, we had an acoustic set, "Bird Song" and Otis, and this was just the first set. Mike and I agreed that we could leave right then and it would have been a fantastic night. Of course we stayed (and we're glad we did), but I'm not aware of any other Grateful Dead show where a dog came on stage, and certainly Otis was the only one to get namechecked by Jerry.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Jerry Garcia Band Keystone Scheduling Overview

The Sunday ad for the Keystone Family, SF Chronicle Jan 27, 1980
I have written at length elsewhere about Jerry Garcia long and fruitful partnership with the Keystone family of nightclubs. From 1971 to 1987, in numerous musical configurations, Jerry Garcia played the Keystone Korner in San Francisco, Keystone Berkeley, Keystone Palo Alto and The Stone in San Francisco over 400 times. At the peak of this activity, from 1977-84, the Jerry Garcia Band (and occasionally other ensembles) would play a run of a couple of shows at the Keystones over the course of a few nights. Generally, he would play one night at each Keystone (Berkeley, Palo Alto and The Stone), three nights in a row, every month or two. There were numerous exceptions to this, and I am using this post to unpack the various scheduling agendas between Jerry Garcia and the Keystones. As a sample for analysis, I am using the Keystone ad for Sunday, January 27, 1980 (above, from the San Francisco Chronicle), which lists upcoming shows at all three venues over the few weeks that would follow publication.

The January 27 ad does not, in fact, list every show at all three Keystone family clubs. All of the clubs were typically open at least six nights a week, but they often only had local bands. The Sunday Chronicle ad was intended to encourage people from around the Bay Area to make a plan to attend one of the clubs, so only the most high profile bookings were listed. In the specific run advertised here, the Jerry Garcia Band was scheduled to play Sunday, January 27 at Keystone Berkeley, and then Friday and Saturday, February 1 and 2. The JGB had played Keystone Palo Alto the previous Sunday night, January 20.

Since all three Keystones were open almost every night, it is plain that to some extent the JGB business managers (presumably Sue Stephens and Steve Parish) looked at Garcia's personal schedule and selected some dates to play shows, and the Keystone family then assigned them to the appropriate Keystone. I'm sure there was some cooperative give and take, but since the Keystones had to find 15 or more headliners every week, there were always some open slots on the bill. An analysis of the ad confirms this.

The typical Keystone booking was a touring rock act who would play two or three nights in different Keystones around the bay, depending on the band's schedule. Thus Cecilio & Kapono, for example (surely you remember them) were booked for Friday, February 15 in Palo Alto, Saturday (Feb 16) in Berkeley and Sunday (Feb 17) at The Stone in San Francisco. Roy Buchanan and The Beat were also booked at the clubs that weekend, and the bands rotated around (The Beat was almost certainly "The Paul Collins Beat" as opposed to the more famous "English Beat"). However, Buchanan played two nights at The Stone, leaving Santa Cruz heroes Snail to headline Palo Alto on Saturday night. Keystone Palo Alto was the nicest of three clubs, with the best parking (you could actually consider taking a date there without shame) and also served a South Bay market from the San Jose area, so the headliners were sometimes different. 

On the weekend of February 1 and 2, there were a number of higher profile bookings at Keystone Palo Alto and Keystone Berkeley. An exciting double bill of Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker was playing The Stone on January 31 (Thursday), Berkeley on February 1 (Friday) and Keystone Palo Alto on February 2 (Saturday). Berkeley hero Greg Kihn was playing Berkeley on Friday February 1, and San Francisco hipsters Pearl Harbor and The Explosions were playing Palo Alto on February 2 as well. Thus The Stone was the "available" club for Garcia Band bookings on the weekend of February 1-2. Although I don't have the previous calendars in front of me, I am sure that a similar analysis would show why the Sunday night shows on January 20 (Palo Alto) and January 27 (Berkeley) made sense for those weekends as well.

A lot of really good bands played the Keystone family of clubs in the 70s and 80s, but the need for 900 headliners a year (roughly 3 clubs x 6 nights x 52 weeks) meant that the Keystones could always accommodate the Garcia Band. Back in 1980, the Grateful Dead were not an exceptional draw in the Bay Area, so even at the Keystones the Garcia Band seems to have striven to book on weekends. In both earlier and later years, that seemed to be less the case. In earlier years, I think Garcia was just looking for enough money to keep his bandmates happy enough to stay in his band, and in later years I think the increasing popularity of the Garcia Band allowed them to book more weeknights. In 1980, however, with the Garcia Band having been largely dormant for two years (the 1980 version, with Ozzie Ahlers on keyboards, had only debuted in October '79), and the Grateful Dead's financial situation as precarious as ever, there seems to have been a conscious effort to find the most attractive dates to book the Keystones.

Appendix: Some Keystone Notes
Keystone Palo Alto had three levels, with a dance floor in front of the stage and two raised levels of seating. There was no sawdust on the floor, and a full bar, setting it apart from the Keystone Berkeley. Also, while The Stone had a full bar and multiple levels, parking at both The Stone and Keystone Berkeley was difficult, and the neighborhoods were sketchy. Finally, The Stone and Keystone Berkeley competed with a variety of San Francisco and East Bay clubs that were very different than the Keystone Palo Alto.

The Keystone Palo Alto was located on 260 S. California Ave in Palo Alto, about a mile South of Downtown. Parking in those days was easy, and the streets were quiet and safe (and dead as a doornail). Palo Alto was well within the range of a huge population of music fans in San Jose who would not have been as likely to come to San Francisco for all but the biggest shows. Conversely, while San Jose in those days--a place that manufactured silicon chips, rather than just designed them--was full of noisy pickup joints with danceable bands, there was very little in the way of serious, original music clubs. As a result, quite a few acts would play The Great American Music Hall in San Francisco but then play Keystone Palo Alto to cover the South Bay.

Mose Allison was booked at Keystone Palo Alto on Thursday, January 31, but he would have been wildly inappropriate at the harder rocking clubs of Keystone Berkeley or The Stone. He probably played the Great American Music Hall instead. Snail, on the other hand, had formed in Santa Cruz in 1968 and were hugely popular in the South Bay, but largely unknown outside of the South Bay. Thus Snail could headline Keystone Palo Alto, but they were small potatoes in Berkeley or San Francisco (Santa Cruz was right about this one--Snail was a really good band). Country swing act Back In The Saddle and Sonoma folksinger Kate Wolf could deliver a good show at Keystone Palo Alto, but they would have been doomed at Keystone Berkeley or The Stone. On the other hand, they probably did very well at Berkeley's Freight And Salvage, but there was no such club in the South Bay, so Keystone Palo Alto could pick up those bookings as well.

Queen Ida and The Bon Temps Zydeco Band (January 28) probably had a following in the East Bay, at least, but they also probably had more choices to play, as the East Bay was more of a multi-cultural soup than the South Bay in those days, so once again Palo Alto was a good choice. The Monday night show (Jan 28) was probably a Monday "Fat Fry," a live performance broadcast on the legendary FM station KFAT, out of Gilroy.

On the other hand, Berkeley has always been a self-contained island, so its not surprising that certain acts were way more popular at Keystone Berkeley than the other clubs. While Greg Kihn had broken beyond the Berkeley border with his 1978 hit "The Breakup Song," Beserkeley Records label mates Earthquake were still popular pretty much only in Berkeley. The group had formed at Berkeley High School in 1967 under the name Purple Earthquake, and stuck together through thick and thin and various record labels. They were fading by 1980, but they could still headline Keystone Berkeley on a Saturday night. The Psychotic Pineapple, a goofy band from Emeryville, had a regular Monday night residency at Keystone Berkeley around 1979-80 and were a weird sort of Berkeley institution. The cover charge for Monday night Pyno shows was typically about a dollar. I don't think I ever saw Psychotic Pineapple in a club, but I recall their flyers and saw them many times playing in a semi-acoustic fashion on the UC Berkeley campus at odd hours.

The Stone had the least identity of the Keystone clubs, and generally skewed towards louder, harder rocking acts. It was located on Broadway in San Francisco, an area that was very difficult to park and on a street full of topless clubs, homeless people, punk rockers and general madness. People from the suburbs were the least likely to attend a show at The Stone just because of the sheer difficulty involved. On the other hand, its convenient location meant that it could serve a broad population, and with a full bar and a capacity of 700 (officially) it seemed to do quite well.