Friday, December 23, 2011

Jerry Garcia Roots And Branches

Oakland Tribune ad, May 5, 1974
I recently came across an ad for Jerry Garcia with the Great American String Band at the Keystone Berkeley on Sunday, May 5, 1974.The Keystone Berkeley's regular display ad in the Sunday Oakland Tribune (of May 5) had the GASB at the top of their ad, since the show was taking place the very same night. The show itself has been known and listed on The Jerry Site for some time, so this was not new territory. However, some of my recent research has focused on the ways in which Jerry Garcia both tapped into and influenced American music in his time. Garcia's remarkable career after he became famous has been characterized by a wide variety of collaborations with numerous musicians, some brief and some substantial. I found myself looking at this ad for the first half of May at the Keystone Berkeley in the context of whether Garcia had a connection to the various acts that were booked. It was striking to see that of the other seven acts booked between May 6 and May 19, Garcia had a distinct connection to four of them.

This post is more of a meditation than analysis. One of the acts was a huge influence on Garcia, some of the acts are connected to Garcia over what would have been events prior to 1973, and some of them are connected to him through events that had not yet occurred, and some fall into more than one category. I am considering them all equally, however, from the perspective of our 20/20 hindsight, as a demonstration of how a seemingly random listing for the Keystone Berkeley offers up a host of Garcia connections.

Monday, May 6: Buck White and The Greenbriar Boys
The Greenbriar Boys were a tremendously influential bluegrass band, whose first album on Vanguard was specifically cited as an inspiration to the likes of Garcia and David Nelson. The Greenbriar Boys were from New York and New Jersey, not the South, and they inspired suburban bluegrass pickers everywhere with the idea that bluegrass could be learned, even if you weren't born to it. Supposedly, a promotional photo of The Black Mountain Boys (which no one has ever seen, to my knowledge) was modeled on the cover of a Greenbriar Boys album.

The Greenbriar Boys released four albums, the last in 1966, and toured up until 1970. The original band featured guitarist John Herald, Bob Yellin on banjo and Eric Weissberg on mandolin. Weissberg was replaced by Ralph Rinzler in about 1962, who in turn was replaced by Frank Wakefield in 1966. Rinzler, among many other things, was the mentor of his teenage neighbor in Hackensack, NJ, David Grisman. Wakefield, among many other things, was in The Good Old Boys with David Nelson, who released an album on Round Records in 1976, produced by Jerry Garcia.

The Greenbriar Boys broke up in 1970, but they apparently played occasionally anyway. Bluegrass groups aren't like rock bands, and can "reform" for a single gig in your living room, if they are so inclined. Presumably they were backing Buck White, a bluegrass artist who sang with his daughters. The Whites would become better known many years later for appearing in the film Brother Where Art Thou. Although the busy Garcia may not have stayed over at the Keystone the next night, I would be very surprised if David Grisman and Richard Greene did not drop by.

Thursday May 9-El Chicano/Friday May 10-John Lee Hooker
Although both of these acts are pretty good, there were no meaningful Garcia connections that I am aware of.

Saturday, May 11-Willie Bobo and Luis Gasca
Willie Bobo was a well-known percussionist and Latin bandleader who appeared on numerous great Latin and jazz albums throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Trumpeter Luis Gasca was mainly based in the Bay Area, but he was not only a well-known Latin jazz artist in the Bay Area in the 1960s, but a crucial bridge between Latin music and rock music in the 1970s. He was a few years older than some of the younger Latinos playing rock music in San Francisco, particularly Carlos Santana and his brother Jorge.

Luis Gasca was good friends with the Santana brothers and all their band members, and was instrumental in the formation of Malo (you recall "Suavecito"). Gasca also led a lot of late night North Beach jam sessions at places like Cesar's (named after owner Cesar Ascarrunz) and other clubs. Garcia was reputed to be a sometime visitor to these jams. I am even convinced that Garcia actually played an advertised date with Gasca in late 1972, but that is too long a tangent to get into here.

In any case, Luis Gasca and Jerry Garcia were at least  occasional jamming partners. As a footnote, Gasca played the trumpet part on the studio version of "Mexicali Blues," released on Bob Weir's Ace.

Sunday, May 12-Gideon And Power
Gideon And Power were a mostly African-American band from the East Bay, who played "Gospel-Rock." The lead singer (either Gideon or Power) had a church background, so he apparently sang rock in a kind of gospel style. The band worked the clubs in the Bay Area for much of the 1970s, mostly in the East Bay, without any huge success. I'm not aware of any album releases. However, I do know that in the latter '70s, the keyboard player for Gideon And Power was one Melvin Seals. I don't know if he was playing with them in 1974--probably not yet. Seals went on from Gideon And Power to play with Elvin Bishop, which is where Garcia first heard him.

Thursday-Friday, May 16-17-Stoneground
Although Stoneground was a San Francisco band, all the Garcia connections were at least one step removed.

Saturday-Sunday, May 18-19-Cold Blood
Cold Blood had been one of the first bands in San Francisco to play soul music with psychedelic overtones. The Loading Zone had been the ones to kick the door open, and Sly And The Family Stone were the ones who transformed music, but Cold Blood was right there amongst the originals, even if they weren't quite on the level of Tower Of Power, much less Sly. Still, Cold Blood was an enjoyable band, with a big horn section backing powerhouse vocalist Lydia Pense.

From about 1968 to 1971, Cold Blood was booked by Bill Graham's Millard Agency, who also booked the Grateful Dead for some of that period. As a result, Cold Blood had played on many bills with the Grateful Dead, particularly on the West Coast in the 1969-70 period. Also, while Cold Blood went through a lot of members, with Lydia Pense the only really constant member of the group, they had used Oakland's finest, Gaylord Birch, as their drummer in 1973 (he appears on the live cd release Vintage Blood, recorded in 1973 and released in 2001). Some years later Birch would be the drummer in Reconstruction (in 1979), with an encore appearance in the Jerry Garcia Band in late 1985 (Oct 85-Feb 86).

I am the first to concede that the scholarly value of this analysis is close to zero. It's interesting, however, to take a look at a typical Keystone bill and see Garcia connections all over the place. The branches of Garcia's musical tree are tangled indeed. Garcia touched bluegrass, jazz, rock and funk music in the Bay Area, and was a major rock star besides, and however lightly, his roots and branches spread much wider than one realizes.


  1. I don't think the scholarly analysis is so small. It's a kind of "social network analysis" that can also be very fruitful with large data sets.

    Do tell more about Luis Gasca and a late '72 billing! I don't recall ever hearing that Garcia hung out with the Latin players.

    I am not so sure that the Greenbriar Boys were backing Buck White. I suspect that they played separate sets. Both of them had been in town the week earlier for the Golden State Country Bluegrass Festival. Indeed, there was an extra inflection of bluegrass billings as the festival performers came to the Bay Area early, or left late, to pick up some extra gigs on either side of the event itself.

    Finally, FYI, I think Gaylord Birch played with Jerry ca. 1974-1975 in Merl's band at either the Sand Dunes or the Generosity.

  2. There was a whole scene around a place called Cesar's 830 Club (the address was 830 Mission or something)from about '71 to '73. Jazz guys, the Santana and Malo guys, and so on. Garcia definitely dropped by, whether often or not isn't clear. Bands like Azteca came out of that scene (Azteca was an important group in a different context).

    Luis Gasca was a key figure. There's an impossible to get album called something like Those Who Are About To Chant that features most of the Santana band. Armando Peraza was very much a part of that scene, too, and he seemed to have been an adjunct member of the JGMS in early '72.

    I'm convinced I recall a Summer '72 ad in the chronicle for Luis Gasca and Garcia in some club in San Francisco, but I've never tracked it down. I recalled Gasca from the back of the Ace album. My long ago memories aside, mid-72 was the period where Kahn and Saunders were on tour with Paul Butterfield, so Garcia may have been looking for other activities.

    I think Garcia only hung out with Luis Gasca and the North Beach/Santana crowd a little bit in '72, but it has been mentioned in an interesting book called Voices Of Latin Rock. I think once Kahn and Saunders returned, Garcia focused more on making music with them and the North Beach thing faded away.

  3. Stoneground had at least a peripheral Garcia connection in that they opened for the Dead's 12/31/70 show...
    Pete Sears may have been in the band at that show; and he is also said to be the piano player in the 'garage tape,' a short set of country covers that Weir did in the studio sometime in 1970, with Jerry on pedal steel & John Cipollina on guitar.
    Not, of course, that that has any connection with the 1974 Stoneground band, with mostly different members!

    It is interesting to hear about Garcia hanging out with the Latin horn players of SF, since his father had also been a Latino saxophone/clarinet player & jazz bandleader in SF.
    Though Jerry would only have heard him at home as a very young child, he remained interested in his father's music: "I've looked at some of the arrangements that his band played...and I thought they were pretty hip. I would have liked to been able to experience his music, because he was a musician who was interested in American music also. He was a genre player, like I am, an idiom player."
    Jackson's bio even suggests that Joe Garcia had also played at the Orpheum and Warfield Theaters in SF, back in the '20s.

  4. I love the idea that Joe and Jerry Garcia played the same venues on Market Street. The only thing that would be better would be to find out that Joe played The Stone.

  5. The Greenbriar Boys were the first to put a struggling folkie named Michael Nesmith on the map when they covered his "Different Drum" in 1966, just before he became a scorned "plastic pop star" in The Monkees.

  6. Though Butterfield Blues Band covered Nesmith's "Mary Mary" the same year. No wonder why he was the reluctant Monkee--he was getting legitimate cred as a singer/songwriter just as The Monkees hit.
    Unfortunately, that ended up being a long term curse, despite half a dozen great solo records in the early 70's. I recommend a back to back listening of the first Garcia solo album and Nesmith's Tantamount to Treason--both from 1972--if on a long drive on a hot, sunny day. Cosmic American music at its best.