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.



Friday, October 21, 2011

December 15, 1973 Winterland, San Francisco: New Riders of The Purple Sage with Jerry Garcia

Hayward Daily Review, December 14, 1973

While researching for an extensive post on the New Riders of The Purple Sage in early 1974, I was doing some fact checking and came across an interesting reference that I was not aware of, and it seemed worthy of posting. The official NRPS archive site could be more complete, but generally speaking the material on the site has shown itself to be fairly accurate. I had known that Dave Torbert's last show as a member of the New Riders was at Winterland on Saturday, December 15, 1973, but I looked it up to confirm it. I was quite surprised to see that the setlist on the site indicated that for the New Riders final number, "Glendale Train," they were joined by Jerry Garcia on guitar and Sandy Rothman on banjo.

The site shows the list as follows:
12/15/73 Winterland - San Francisco
Partial setlist: Important Exportin’ Man / Truck Drivin' Man / Parson Brown / Rose City Chimes / School Days / Portland Woman / Crooked Judge / Whiskey* / Crazy Arms / Sea Cruise / Take A Letter Maria / Glendale Train** (*w/Darlene Di Domenico on vocals - **w/Jerry Garcia on guitar and Sandy Rothman on banjo)

The fact that the list says "partial setlist" suggests that someone has a tape, although I am not aware of one that has circulated. I am posting this here just to bring this fact forward, so I have somewhere to post comments when I learn something, but it is still interesting for a variety of reasons.
  • The Grateful Dead had played The Omni in Atlanta on December 12, 1973, and then played Tampa, FL on December 18 and 19. It had always seemed strange to me that the weekend was empty. While I assume that there must have been a canceled Dead show or two in there, if Garcia was in San Francisco on December 15, it means that Garcia at least, and probably the whole band, returned to San Francisco between the 12th and the 18th.
  • As I discussed elsewhere, Garcia had taken on the task of producing the New Riders' live album, Home, Home On The Road. Garcia's last appearance with the New Riders took place on February 2, 1974, when he played electric guitar with them for much of the second set at Keystone Berkeley. I posited that he would have just finished mixing the album, and would have known the material. Perhaps the process had begun in December, which would have been one reason for him to fly back home.
  • In my mind, when Dave Torbert left the New Riders, the band went into a steady decline. It's appropriate that the last performance of what to me was the classic NRPS included a guest appearance by Jerry.
  • I wasn't aware of much in the way of collaboration between Jerry Garcia and Sandy Rothman from the 1960s to the '80s, but there he was onstage with the Riders. Rothman was mostly a touring bluegrass musician at this time, but he would have been friendly with David Nelson from back in the day, and he must have been in town. Thus this Winterland appearance presages the future of the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band, in an un-acoustic kind of way. I know that Sandy Rothman played with the inaugural version of the Great American Music Band, on March 10, 1974, so Rothman and Garcia were still in touch even if they didn't apparently play together much.
If anyone knows any more about Garcia and Rothman's appearance, has heard a tape, or just has entertaining speculation, I would be very interested in any Comments.







Monday, October 10, 2011

The Fish-Barry Melton, produced by Bob and Betty (?)


This post is about a rather obscure bit of Grateful Dead arcana, so arcane that it is actually about a Barry Melton album. Now, I love Barry Melton's music, and this admittedly long out of print album is pretty good, but this post is really about memory, so it is more appropriate on this blog rather than others. Scholars who pursue rock history place great stock in first hand interviews with actual sources, as well we should. Scholars who pursue the history of bands like the Grateful Dead down to the day-to-day level, like I do, generally treat participant testimony as the best source to confirm the facts of long gone events. The story about this Barry Melton, album, however, is a cautionary tale that tells us even the clearest headed, best intentioned participants may provide contradictory information.

The Fish-Barry Melton
Barry "The Fish" Melton was half of Country Joe and The Fish, of course, and he had great success as a member of that band in the 1960s. Like many 60s artists, however, he wasn't as successful in the 1970s. Nonetheless, he still had a following, and he continued to record and release albums. In 1975 or '76 United Artists Records released a Barry Melton album called The Fish (UA 29908), but it was only released in England. I have heard the album, and possibly may have owned it at some time, and it's a pretty good album. Since it wasn't released in America, however, it was hardly known in America, even for the most ardent fans of The Fish himself.

Up until this time, the album's connection to Grateful Dead scholarship was a few interesting songwriting credits. One of the best songs on the album was called "Jessie James," co-written by Robert Hunter and Barry Melton. At the time the record came out, it was a complete surprise to see Hunter co-writing a song on a UK-only album. I believe that the song was performed by Hunter and Melton a few times in the 1980s with The Dinosaurs, but in 1976 it seemed to come out of nowhere. Apparently, Hunter and Melton may have written "Jesse James" in London, but exactly when would be unclear. In any case, Country Joe McDonald had already recorded the song on his 1974 Vanguard album, recorded in Summer 1973, with additional lyrics of his own (although I was unaware of that in the mid-70s).

There are also two songs co-written by Melton and Mickey Hart, "Speed Racer" and "Marshmellow Road." Neither of them are particularly memorable, but songwriting credits for Hart were such an oddity in 1976 that they stood out on their own terms. "Marshmellow Road" would have appeared on Mickey Hart's second solo album Fire On The Mountain, had it been released in 1973, but that was generally unknown at the time. Two more songs were co-written by Peter Monk ("Could You Drive Forever" and "Harbinger"). Monk (AKA Peter Zimmels) co-wrote "Passenger" with Phil Lesh, so he had a Dead connection, if a somewhat distant one. Finally, one song ("Mountains In Dreamland"), was written by Bay Area musician Charles Cockey (a few may recall his Berkeley group, Melvyn Q. Watchpocket). Thus the album had a Bay Area flavor that went beyond Melton's individual pedigree, and yet it was recorded in Monmouth, Wales and only released in the UK.

Rockfield Studios, Monmouth, Wales
Rockfield Studios is worthy of a book, so I won't go too far into the subject here. Suffice to say, Rockfield was the first studio to be both a residence and a studio, allowing bands to relax and live at the studio while recording. Incredibly, Kingsley and Charles Ward, the founding brothers, began building the studio in 1964, light years ahead of their time. The studio did not become prominent until the 1970s, but it has been a destination studio ever since, and the hit albums recorded there are too numerous to mention.

There were plenty of fine bands in South Wales, and the best and most successful of them, Man, were hugely influenced by San Francisco bands like Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Steve Miller Band and the Grateful Dead. This story, too, is worthy of a book, but fortunately two have been written, by Man guitarist Deke Leonard (Rhinos Winos And Lunatics, Northdown Books [1996] and Maybe I Should've Stayed In Bed, Northdown Books [2000], both indispensable rock books, if hard to find). Man were on United Artists Records, whose UK head, Andrew Lauder was a true connoisseur of what psychedelic rock had to offer. Lots of interesting, spacy bands were on UA, including Man, High Tide and Help Yourself.

Help Yourself--yet another long tale--were a great London band with a real West Coast sound. The band's drummer, Dave Charles, ended up becoming one of the main engineers at Rockfield Studios, engineering and producing dozens of albums. Thus while it may seem odd from the outside that Barry Melton released an album only in the UK and recorded in Wales, it was in fact because the label head (Andrew Lauder) and the producer/engineer/drummer (Dave Charles) were well versed in San Francisco rock. The Fish album is both in the West Coast tradition and very much in the style of English and Welsh bands inspired by San Francisco, like Help Yourself. The lineup on the album is
  • Barry Melton-guitar, vocals
  • Ray Martinez-guitar (from Monmouth, Wales)
  • Tommy Eyre-keyboards (from Sheffield--ex Joe Cocker's Grease Band)
  • Ken Whaley-bass (from Oxford--ex Help Yourself, ex-Man)
  • Dave Charles-drums (from London-ex Sam Apple Pie, ex-Help Yourself)
Betty Cantor's Version
Since I have always been a fan of the various Welsh rock bands of the 60s and 70s (Eyes Of Blue, anyone?), the narrative of The Fish album always made sense to me, even if it was obscure to the general public. However, I was recently fortunate enough to hear an extensive interview with Grateful Dead engineer and taping legend Betty Cantor conducted by David Gans. In the future, Mr Gans will spring the most amazing of the stories upon the world (and they are amazing) through the The Grateful Dead Hour or on KPFA, but one offhand remark of Betty's caught my ear.

Cantor was talking about working in Mickey Hart's barn, and how they recorded Robert Hunter's Tiger Rose and Mickey Hart's Diga Rhythm Band albums there, using the very same board that the band had used for Workingman's Dead. Apparently, Pacific High Recorders (by this time called His Master's Wheels) had upgraded their desk, and Mickey caught the board on the rebound, which explains the improvement in the sound from tapes recorded there from 1975 onwards. In passing, Betty remarks "I did an album with Barry The Fish Melton there." Gans asks "Did it come out? What's it called?" and she casually replies, "yes [it did], 'The Fish.'" I promptly looked it up, and discovered the long forgotten album recorded in Wales with Dave Charles.

Betty Cantor recollections are quite clear, particularly of her recordings. Her attention to detail was astonishing, as we know from her glorious tapes, so if she says she recorded The Fish with Barry Melton at Mickey Hart's barn, and that it was released, I'm not inclined to think she's making it up or having a senior moment, and yet it contradicts all the evidence. Having heard the whole interview, I can assure you that Betty Cantor is the sort of eyewitness that researchers dream of, clear about what she knows and doesn't know, but with a unique perspective that makes her insights all the more useful. What could have happened?

Possible Explanations
  • Betty Cantor recorded The Fish album with Barry Melton in Mickey Hart's barn, but Melton used it as a sort of demo tape to get signed by Andrew Lauder and UA-UK. Once signed, Lauder had Melton re-record most or all of the same material in a superior sounding studio. This would be distinctly possible, but would assume that Betty never heard the album as released. Of course, the album was quite obscure in the US, unless you lived in Berkeley in 1976, so maybe she never heard it. Still, this would certainly explain the numerous Grateful Dead related songwriting credits.
  • Betty Cantor recorded The Fish with Barry Melton in Mickey's barn, but Andrew Lauder re-recorded some of the tracks in Wales, but not all of them. There's no actual law or rule that says that album credits have to be complete or even accurate, so whichever tracks were recorded by Betty were not credited that way. That would explain why she recognized her own work, having heard it, but perhaps did not realize that parts of the record were re-recorded. It's also plausible to think that some basic tracks were retained with different mixes or overdubs, but of course Betty would have been even more likely to hear those differences, so the actual story remains obscure. 
The story of The Fish album isn't necessarily that important in the history of Barry Melton, much less the Grateful Dead. Nonetheless it points up to me how even the most settled of stories may seem to have another side to it. I thought I knew about how The Fish album came to be recorded in Wales, but there seems to be another anlge to the story entirely. Betty Cantor, in turn, clearly remembers recording the album, and knows it was released, yet what was released can at most only partially be what she recorded. The album itself has never been released on cd, and is very hard to find, so that is of little help. There is a live Barry Melton tape on the Archive from a UK tour supporting the album (recorded in Sussex on Feb 7 '76, with Ray Martinez, Ken Whaley and Dave Charles), for those who would like to hear what the music sounded like, but that tells us nothing about the recording itself. Despite an explicit eyewitness account, we find ourselves facing a mystery, and a seemingly settled piece of fact bobs unsettlingly just above the surface of the water.

Friday, October 7, 2011

April 10, 1974 Record Plant, Sausalito, CA: Peter Rowan demo with Jerry Garcia (Texican Badman)

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
An obscure Peter Rowan album called Texican Badman, released only in Italy on Appaloosa in 1980, features four tracks recorded at the Record Plant in Sausalito on April 10, 1974. Backing Rowan on these four tracks are Jerry Garcia on lead guitar, David Grisman on mandolin, John Kahn on bass and Bill Kreutzmann on drums. The balance of the album features six Peter Rowan tracks recorded live in Texas in 1979, with none of the participants on the Record Plant tracks. Since the Record Plant sessions feature four songs recorded in a day, it must have been for a record-company sponsored demo session, never intended for release. I myself have never heard the tracks, but since I generally like Peter Rowan I'm sure they are at least worth hearing.

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
Peter Rowan and David Grisman
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
David Grisman and David Nichtern, Freight and Salvage, April 10, 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.

Prospective Conclusions
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.

update: thanks to intrepid Commenter and scholar runonguinness, we find out the whole story from Peter Rowan himself. Almost everything we thought about the sessions was incorrect, but fascinating nonetheless:

Peter Rowan interviewed about this session by Ken Hunt in "Swing 51" No 6 from 1982 p 27-28
KH: Presumably some of those tracks on "Texican Badman" are from those demo sessions for Warners. Was it a whole album that you recorded?

PR: No, just four songs. It was during the time the GD were recording "Wake Of The Flood." Billy Wolf was the engineer. He had been engineer, kinda co-producer with David Grisman when they did "The Rowan Brothers" for Columbia Records. OITW was playing a lot around this time that Jerry was recording with the Dead. They had, like, reserved the studio for days on end, but weren't in there at certain times of the day, so I think we got a next to nothing rate for, like, three hours, and Warners put up $1000 or something like that. It was enough so everybody could get paid something - the players, that is. I didn't get anything. We cut those four tunes, had my brothers sing, had John Kahn play bass, Garcia lead guitar, David Grisman mandolin, Bill Kreutzmann drums. We did some tunes that I'd written around the time as demos. Warner Brothers thought it was too funky, too country, so they just passed on it. The tapes just sat around. Billy Wolf has the master tapes but they're impossible to find. They're lost in the great vaults of the GD you know, the Grisman/Rowan archives. I don't know where they are, but they could've ended up anywhere! I know that Vassar Clements has a lot of the master tapes of OITW at his house. So, I had a mix, a rough mix, and I thought it would be good to put out in Europe as a collection with the live stuff that I did at the Armadillo with Flaco. David was pretty upset about it, because he felt he wasn't in control of it. Sort of behind his back. They feel it was a demo, not a master session, as if that would make some difference as to how they would approach it. It's like a record of the times really. The sound isn't that great. I guess that everyone likes to think that their latest work is representative.
Earlier in the interview (p 25), regarding the Rowan Brothers demos "Livin' The Life" Appaloosa release, Peter said this among much else (basically, he was not happy the way his younger brothers had been treated)
PR: I think this album may set the record straight. I organised the deal with Appaloosa for them, because I think it's important that those guys get out the music that people were excited about before they were overproduced and turned into hot-house roses.
So Peter Rowan was definitely behind the Appaloosa Rowan releases and it looks like his demos come from the Record Plant in August 1973, shoe-horned into a gap in the Dead's WOTF sessions.

His interview certainly shows some prickliness towards Grisman although he does not come straight out and badmouth him.

And Vassar had (his estate still has, hopefully) some OITW master tapes. I wonder how that happened.