Friday, February 24, 2012

January 13, 1969, Rehearsal Space, Novato, CA: Grateful Dead and Fleetwood Mac

The 1969 album Fleetwood Mac in Chicago, recorded a few weeks before the band visited San Francisco
San Francisco was one of the centers of the rock music universe in the late 1960s. One of the rituals for many visiting English bands was meeting the hitherto legendary San Francsico bands. There was considerably more press about groups like the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead than there were records, and the English groups were equally exotic to their San Francisco counterparts. There were two primary factors that the San Francisco bands considered: were the visiting Englishmen "kindred spirits" (which meant "did they take LSD?") and were they willing to jam? The requisite jam was a similar to visiting jazzmen, or gunfighters--good musicians could bring it when asked, and anyone who backed down just might not be worthy. Sadly, none of these historic jams were recorded, to my knowledge, but I was recently reminded of an eyewitness account of the first jam between Fleetwood Mac and the Grateful Dead, in the Grateful Dead's rehearsal hall on January 13, 1969.

Dinky Dawson and Fleetwood Mac
Stuart "Dinky" Dawson, a former DJ, was hired as Fleetwood Mac's road manager and soundman in July, 1968, soon after the Mac returned from their first American tour. Unlike many road managers, Dawson was also a sophisticated, self-taught sound technician, but he was as rough and ready as any 60s rock and roll adventurer. Also unlike many of the rest of these unsung heroes, Dawson wrote a fascinating memoir of his touring days in the late 60s and 70s, Life On The Road (with Carter Alan, Billboard Books 1998, 345 pp). It's a must-read for anyone interested in the music of the time. Dawson road managed Fleetwood Mac though mid-1970, and then signed on for long tours of duty with The Byrds, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Steely Dan and Warren Zevon. He also ran an important sound company in the Northeast.

Fleetwood Mac was formed by the great guitarist Peter Green, but the self-effacing Green named it after his rhythm section, bassist John McVie and drummer Mick Fleetwood. The initial iteration of the band was a quartet, with slide guitarist Jeremy Spencer, and early albums featured tough, expressive Chicago-style blues, with vocals by Green and Spencer. By the time Dawson arrived in Summer 1968, the Mac had added guitarist Danny Kirwan. Fleetwood Mac thus had three singing guitarists, giving them a wide range of stylistic diversity for the time. After some recording and touring in England and Europe, Fleetwood Mac was set to begin their second American tour in late 1968. They were supporting their second American album, English Rose. Fleetwood Mac had done some recording in New York City in December, and then played Texas and then played various cities in the East. They spent New Year's in Chicago, performing and recording, but by the second weekend in January, Fleetwood Mac were heading West. After a weekend in Portland and Seattle (January 10-11), the band was looking forward to a week in San Francisco.

Visiting San Francisco
The San Francisco ritual of jamming with visiting bands seems to have begun with the Jefferson Airplane. Since the Airplane were effectively managed by Bill Graham, he had arranged for them to rehearse in a building he owned two doors from the Fillmore, the former Masonic Temple at 1859 Geary (in between these buildings was the former Temple Beth Israel synagogue, later known as Theatre 1839). Thus it was easy for bands who were playing the Fillmore to drop by and hang out and jam with the Airplane, assuming they were in town. Among other things, this was how Jimi Hendrix first met and played with Jack Casady. Less directly, it was how Paul McCartney got to meet and play with the Airplane, even though he was not playing the Fillmore.

Meanwhile, the Grateful Dead had made friends with Eric Burdon, and thus Eric Burdon and The Animals were invited on stage with the band at the Avalon (on March 26, 1967). Steve Winwood and Traffic were met at the airport by Dead representatives (and dosed immediately, apparently), and Jerry Garcia ended up sitting in with Traffic (on March 18, 1968). Of course, both the Dead and the Airplane were on the road a lot, so many opportunities for jams with visitors never occurred. Nonetheless, Garcia, at least appears to have been unforgiving when Jimi Hendrix did not show up for a planned jam with the Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service, so there was plenty of significance attached to these meetings, even if it was not spoken about much at the time.

Fleetwood Mac had debuted in America in late June of 1968. They were originally booked to play the Carousel Ballroom with the Grateful Dead on June 7-9, but they were delayed by visa issues. In fact, the band's debut appears to have been at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on June 28, 1968, opening for The Who and Crazy World Of Arthur Brown (see Christopher Hjort's exceptional 2007 book Strange Brew for a detailed chronology of this period). Fleetwood Mac were then scheduled to play Thee Image in Florida, but their booking was canceled. As a result, the Mac spent the week of July 2-7 hanging out in San Francisco. They played a guest set at Fillmore West, and met members of the Grateful Dead, but never actually got to play with them. As a result, when the Mac returned in January 1969, they were looking forward to furthering their friendships with the Grateful Dead and others.

Stuart 'Dinky' Dawson in the 90s. Note the fisherman's hat.
Fleetwood Mac, January 1969
One of the many pleasures of Dinky Dawson's book for a rock prosopographer like me is that he clearly wrote it with access to a log book or tour itinerary, since while he doesn't always identify dates, he is very precise about the sequence of events. Thus Dawson's narrative makes it plain that the day of the jam between the Grateful Dead and Fleetwood Mac is Monday, January 13, 1969. Dawson:
Later that same day [Monday], we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito [sic], where we had been invited to hang out at the Grateful Dead's rehearsal space. I finally met Owsley and bonded with the group's sound engineer, Dan Healy, and Ramrod, the stage manager. They had set up all the Dead's equipment and soon the informal session got into full swing.
It's clear to me that Fleetwood Mac went to Novato, where the Dead rehearsed, not Sausalito. Dawson was an Englishman on his first trip to America, so it's no surprise that he wasn't clear about Marin suburbs--I wouldn't know the difference between, say, Staines and Woking, were I south of London, particularly a few decades after the fact. Dawson's most interesting comment follows:
Watching Jerry Garcia and Peter [Green] get off on each other and trade bluesy licks amazed me. Ron McKernan, aka Pigpen, the Dead's fearsome looking but lovable keyboard player, held things together with his fantastic rhythmic piano playing [p.74]
Members and friends of the Grateful Dead have always alluded to Pigpen's seemingly vast talents that were rarely ever seen on stage, and here is an indication of another one. Pigpen's piano playing has rarely been heard, much less as the anchor to a blues band, much less as the rhythm man for a guitar duel between Peter Green and Jerry Garcia.

We have a pretty good idea of Fleetwood Mac's sound during this period, not least because they recorded in Chicago and Los Angeles. Fleetwood Mac had just recorded the great album Bluesjam In Chicago at Chess Studios over New Year's. However, instead of Buddy Guy and Otis Spann joining in, it was Garcia and Pigpen. Fleetwood, McVie, Garcia, Green and Pigpen--there's a blues band for you. I wonder if Pigpen wanted to sing anything? Boy, I sure wish Owsley or Healy or someone had a tape deck running, but it's wishful thinking. Yet, here was a side of Pigpen that was totally dormant. He could apparently play like Otis Spann when he wanted to, but the Dead's music never called for it, so he rarely bothered. Remarkable.

Of course, we don't know exactly who sat in with who--I'm sure the different members of the Grateful Dead and Fleetwood Mac all got their licks in. The jam had many ramifications, however. At the time of the jam, Fleetwood Mac's instrumental single "Albatross" was starting to become a hit, and Mac would break out of the simple blues band mold, following a path trod by the Dead a little bit earlier. The ever-inventive Green was very impressed by Garcia's commitment to playing new, imaginative music every night, and he frustrated the other members of the band by trying to play music that was farther and farther out. The rest of 1969 and early 1970 featured some fantastic music by Fleetwood Mac, including the great album Then Play On, and then some legendary gigs with the Dead in New Orleans, and the even more epic jam at Fillmore East on February 11, 1970.

After the jam n Novato, Fleetwood Mac went on to open for Creedence Clearwater at Fillmore West (January 16-19) and on across America. The band's performance at the Shrine in Los Angeles (January 24-25, 1969) was ultimately released, as soundman Dawson had the foresight to make a great tape. Dawson and Fleetwood Mac went on to have numerous adventures, and Dawson's book provides a remarkable perspective on the relatively early days of national rock and roll tours. The January 1969 jam clearly loomed largely in the minds of Fleetwood Mac, however, and not just for Garcia's inspiration for Green. Dawson recalls
[I became] fascinated with [Pigpen's] leather Greek Fisherman's cap, which I thought was the most. Next day I went out and bought a light cotton replica with a plastic visor, later purchasing an authentic and sturdier wool one, which has been with me ever since. Even though Pigpen left us four years later for that great jam session in the sky, I still think of him every time I put on that Greek cap [p.74].

Friday, February 17, 2012

New Riders Of The Purple Sage Personnel 1969-1981

A San Francisco Chronicle listing for August 6, 1969, mentioning the New Riders of The Purple Sage' appearance at The Matrix that night. This was the first public use of the New Riders' name.
The New Riders Of The Purple Sage were an important part of the Grateful Dead saga. The band was the first manifestation of Jerry Garcia's passion for working steadily with bands outside of the Grateful Dead. His participation in the New Riders as a sideman playing a new instrument, the pedal steel guitar, was an untraveled pathway for rock stars. In the 1969-71 period, The New Riders and Hot Tuna regularly opened shows for the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane, respectively, but otherwise there are few, if any, comparable examples in rock history.

Jerry Garcia was the last member of the Grateful Dead to step away from performing the New Riders, playing his last show as a member of the band on October 31, 1971. However, even though they had their own recording career, the New Riders were still part of the Grateful Dead's orbit. Jon McIntire and the Grateful Dead organization provided management and staff support through 1973, and Jerry Garcia, Keith and Donna Godchaux and Robert Hunter participated periodically in the studio and on stage. The New Riders Of The Purple Sage opened many shows for the Grateful Dead, particularly many memorable, high profile shows throughout the 1970s.

I created this list of New Riders lineups for my own research, so I thought I would publish it. The comments are just sketching the outline of the New Riders rich history from the point of view of personnel changes. The numbering system for the lineups is arbitrary, and only intended to facilitate discussion in the Comments. I am particularly interested if anyone can help pin down the first and last shows for lineups #5 through #10. Anyone with new information, insights, corrections or amusing speculation is encouraged to put them into the Comments.

First show-May 7, 1969 The Underground, Menlo Park, CA
Last show-June 25, 1969 The Underground, Menlo Park, CA
John Dawson-acoustic guitar, vocals
Jerry Garcia-pedal steel guitar
David Nelson-electric guitar
John "Marmaduke" Dawson had a regular Wednesday night booking at a hofbrau in Menlo Park called The Underground, on El Camino Real, near Magoo's Pizza. At some point, Jerry Garcia started to sit in on pedal steel guitar, acting as a sideman to Dawson as he sang his own songs and various Bakersfield-style country numbers. Shortly afterwards, David Nelson joined them. Details are very vague. We do not know yet how they were billed. I do not see how there can have been more than six shows.

Marmaduke & Friends/Bobby Ace And The Cards Off The Bottom
June ?, 1969 Peninsula School, Menlo Park, CA
June 11, 1969 California Hall 
John Dawson-acoustic guitar, vocals
Jerry Garcia-pedal steel guitar
David Nelson-electric guitar
Peter Grant-banjo
Bob Matthews-bass
Mickey Hart-drums
According to Dennis McNally, the group "tried out" the New Riders concept sometime in June with a concert at Peninsula School in Menlo Park. Jerry's daughter was probably a student there at the time. McNally mentions that Peter Grant played with them. Grant was an old friend of Garcia's. I am assuming that Bob Matthews would have played bass and Mickey Hart drums, but I do not actually know.

There was a show at California Hall on June 11 billed as "Bobby Ace And The Cards Off The Bottom." We have some partial information about the show, just a setlist featuring various numbers probably played acoustically, sung by Garcia and Weir, although the focus seems to have been on Weir. Since Nelson and Dawson are known to have been there, I have always assumed that there was some kind of set by the proto-New Riders as well.

A ticket for the second booking (late show) of the New Riders, before they had invented the name
New Riders Of The Purple Sage #1
First show-July 16, 1969 Longshoreman's Hall
Last show-January 19, 1970-Pauley Ballroom
John Dawson-acoustic guitar, vocals
Jerry Garcia-pedal steel guitar
David Nelson-electric guitar
Bob Matthews-bass
or Phil Lesh-bass
Mickey Hart-drums
The New Riders debuted on July 16, 1969, opening for the Grateful Dead at Longshoreman's Hall. The group's first headline date was on August 1 at the Bear's Lair in Berkeley. The name "New Riders Of The Purple Sage" first appeared at a booking at the Matrix on August 6-9, 1969. For the balance of 1969, Matthews and Phil Lesh seem to have alternated bass duties. Eventually, Lesh more or less became the only bassist, as Bob Matthews was busy producing Workingman's Dead, though Lesh ultimately had no real interest in continuing. 

New Riders Of The Purple Sage #2
First show-April 17, 1970 Family Dog
Last show-November 29 , 1970 Agora, Columbus, OH
John Dawson-acoustic guitar, vocals
David Nelson-lead guitar, vocals
Jerry Garcia-pedal steel guitar
Dave Torbert-bass, vocals
Mickey Hart-drums
Dave Torbert, a former bandmate of David Nelson's in the New Delhi River Band, joined the group in April 1970. At this juncture, the New Riders of the Purple Sage became a "real" band. The Grateful Dead organization provided crew, equipment, music publishing and management, as well as a pedal steel guitarist and drummer. This lineup of the band was signed by Columbia, although the details of the contract and the partnership remain obscure to me. This lineup of the band began to record the NRPS album, although most of the 1970 tracks were erased.

New Riders Of The Purple Sage #3
First show-December 12, 1970 Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Santa Rosa, CA
Last show-October 31, 1971 Taft Auditorium, Cincinnati, OH
John Dawson-guitar, vocals
David Nelson-lead guitar, vocals
Jerry Garcia-pedal steel guitar
Dave Torbert-bass, vocals
Spencer Dryden-drums
Mickey Hart had become increasingly distraught after his father Lenny had nearly bankrupted the Grateful Dead. He left the New Riders after their November tour, and the Dead in February of 1971. Former Jefferson Airplane drummer Spencer Dryden took over the Riders' drum chair starting in December of 1970. Dryden played drums on most of the songs on the debut NRPS album, released on Columbia in October 1971.

The band had met Buddy Cage on the July 1970 Festival Express tour, when he was playing pedal steel guitar for the Great Speckled Bird, with Ian and Sylvia Tyson. Garcia and the Riders knew that Cage was the better player, and Cage was ultimately enticed down to California to join the band. Garcia remained with the New Riders for the first leg of the October tour, since the NRPS album listed him as a member of the group. Garcia's last show was apparently Halloween in Cincinnati (although the Jerry Site says it was the night before).

New Riders Of The Purple Sage #4
First show-November 11, 1971 Municipal Auditorium, Atlanta, GA
Last show-December 15, 1973 Winterland
John Dawson-guitar, vocals  
David Nelson-lead guitar, vocals
Buddy Cage-pedal steel guitar
Dave Torbert-bass, vocals
Spencer Dryden-drums
Buddy Cage debuted with the New Riders in Atlanta. This lineup was the classic New Riders lineup, releasing four best-selling albums: Powerglide, Gypsy Cowboy, Panama Red and Home, Home On The Road. During this period, both Torbert and Nelson stepped forward and joined Dawson as lead vocalist and songwriters. In the Spring of 1973, Keith and Donna Godchaux appeared regularly on stage with the New Riders, but I have not yet been able to discern whether this was part of a larger plan.

At the end of this period, the New Riders changed management from Jon McIntire and the Grateful Dead organization to Joe Kerr, a college friend of Commander Cody (George Frayne). Torbert left the New Riders to form a group with Matt Kelly around the same time. I do not know if the events were connected, but I would be surprised if they were not.

An ad for the New Riders' 1974 album Brujo
New Riders Of The Purple Sage #5
First show-January 29, 1974 Lion's Share
Last show-February 1976
John Dawson-guitar, vocals  
David Nelson-lead guitar, vocals
Buddy Cage-pedal steel guitar
Skip Battin-bass, vocals
Spencer Dryden-drums
The Skip Battin era began on a high note, with the New Riders still a popular touring act. However, two dud albums (Brujo and Oh What A Mighty Time) and some changes in the music industry made the New Riders seem passe.  The Riders let their Columbia contract expire after 7 albums and signed with MCA, but their first album for their new label (New Riders) was mostly country covers. Shortly after the first MCA album's release, Battin left the band to join the re-formed Flying Burrito Brothers.

New Riders Of The Purple Sage #6
First show-March 76
Last show-mid 77
John Dawson-guitar, vocals  
David Nelson-lead guitar, vocals
Buddy Cage-pedal steel guitar
Stephen Love-bass, vocals
Spencer Dryden-drums
Stephen Love replaced Battin as the bassist. Love had been in Rick Nelson's Stone Canyon Band. By early 1977, Love was starting to contribute songs as well, giving another much needed voice to the band. The group released Who Are Those Guys? in April 1977, their best studio album since Panama Red. Afterwards, Dryden left the drum chair to become the New Riders' manager. Commander Cody had been unhappy with Joe Kerr's handling of band money, and I would be surprised if the New Riders had not felt the same.
New Riders Of The Purple Sage #7
First show-mid-77
Last show-March '78
John Dawson-guitar, vocals  
David Nelson-lead guitar, vocals
Buddy Cage-pedal steel guitar
Stephen Love-bass, vocals
Pat Shanahan-drums
Pat Shanahan replaced Dryden as the New Riders drummer. Shanahan had been in Rick Nelson's Stone Canyon Band with Stephen Love. Prior to Rick Nelson, Shanahan had been in a Colorado band called The Poor, with Randy Meisner (later of Poco and The Eagles), who had moved to Los Angeles in 1967. In late 1977, lineup #7 released the album Marin County Line on MCA, another pretty good record. This lineup of the band opened for the Grateful Dead on at Englishtown (Sep 3 '77) and New Year's Eve 1977 at Winterland.

Early in 1978, Buddy Cage and Stephen Love left the New Riders. No convincing explanation was ever offered for Cage's departure, which inevitably means it was a dispute over money (update: apparently it was not over money--Cage just thought the band was in a musical rut). An eyewitness reports that Cage and Love were still with the band on March 12, 1978 (at Suffolk Forum in Commack, NY), so their departure must have been after that.

New Riders Of The Purple Sage #8
First show-May 1978
Last show-June 1978
John Dawson-acoustic guitar, vocals
David Nelson-lead guitar, vocals
Gib Gilbeau-guitar, violin, vocals
Sneeky Pete Kleinow-pedal steel guitar
Skip Battin-bass, vocals
Pat Shanahan-drums
The Flying Burrito Brothers were contemporaries of the New Riders from the 60s, indeed the Burritos actually pre-dated them. The Burritos have a dizzyingly complex history in their own right, but at one point in 1978, both the Burritos and the New Riders lineups were depleted. The members of the two bands joined forces for about a month, mostly playing as the New Riders Of The Purple Sage, although they may have also played a few dates as the Flying Burrito Brothers (note: I had originally thought that the Flying Riders lineup was around March, but it turns out to have been a few months later).

New Riders Of The Purple Sage #9
First show-mid 78
Last show-early 80
John Dawson-guitar, vocals
David Nelson-lead guitar, vocals
Bobby Black-pedal steel guitar
  replaced by: Pete Grant-pedal steel guitar
Allan Kemp-bass, vocals
Pat Shanahan-drums
The New Riders temporarily righted the ship with some old friends. Bobby Black had been the pedal steel player for Commander Cody and The Lost Planet Airmen back when the band shared management and many double bills. He was a fine steel player, and no doubt they were comfortable with him on the road. By fortune or design, with Black on board the New Riders had a bit more of a Western Swing feel, reminiscent in some ways of the Cody sound. Allan Kemp had been the guitarist for The Poor and later The Stone Canyon Band, but he played bass for the New Riders. This lineup of the band opened for The Grateful Dead at their Giants Stadium show on September 2, 1978 and at the closing of Winterland on December 31, 1978.
[update: in late '79 or so, Bobby Black left the Riders, and Pete Grant, an old friend of Nelson and Garcia's, filled in for a while. Grant, among many other things, had played pedal steel guitar on the Aoxomoxa album, but as a steel player he had toured with Hoyt Axton and played in the house band at the San Jose country bar Cowtown]

New Riders Of The Purple Sage #10
First show-mid 80
Last show-December 31, 1981 Oakland Auditorium Arena
John Dawson-guitar, vocals
David Nelson-lead guitar, vocals
Buddy Cage-pedal steel guitar
Allan Kemp-guitar, vocals
Michael White-bass, vocals
Pat Shanahan-drums
At some point in 1980, I'm not exactly sure when, Buddy Cage returned to the New Riders. Also, Allan Kemp switched from bass to guitar. His bass duties were taken over by Michael White (probably this lineup was really two lineups, but I don't have enough information yet to determine that). This reconstituted New Riders lineup recorded Feelin' Alright, released in 1980, on A&M Records. The album was the band's only release on A&M, and they were subsequently dropped by the label.

This six-piece lineup opened for the Grateful Dead on December 31, 1981 at the Oakland Auditorium Arena. It was the last time the New Riders opened for the Grateful Dead. I do not know for certain if New Year's Eve was the last show of this lineup, but David Nelson and Buddy Cage left relatively soon afterwards, in any case. With Nelson's departure, the one unbreakable link between Garcia and NRPS was de-activated,  and while the New Riders continued on, their history veered away from all but a historical connection to the Grateful Dead.

NRPS 1982-1997
John Dawson kept the New Riders going throughout the next decade, albeit somewhat intermittently. Dawson's principal collaborator was multi-instrumentalist Rusty Gauthier. By the 1990s, the Riders were often playing as an acoustic trio. I saw them as an electric band in 1983 and an acoustic trio in 1994, and I enjoyed them both times, but they were definitely traveling down a road they had already been on. Around 1997, John Dawson retired to Mexico. His health had declined, and he put the New Riders to sleep.

New Riders Of The Purple Sage 2005-present day
In 2005, David Nelson and Buddy Cage decided to re-activate the New Riders Of The Purple Sage. With the blessing of the fully retired John Dawson, they did just that. To the amazement and pleasure of all, the new New Riders have taken the style and songs of the original band and re-invigorated them with a more freewheeling improvisational approach than the original group. New songs from Nelson and old pal Robert Hunter have made sure that the New Riders are not just resting on their formidable laurels. John Dawson even made a brief encore appearance with them in 2007, closing the circle before he passed on in 2009. The current New Riders lineup has remained intact since their inception in 2005.

New Riders Of The Purple Sage-current
David Nelson-lead guitar, vocals
Michael Falzarano-guitar, vocals
Buddy Cage-pedal steel guitar
Ronnie Penque-bass, vocals
Johnny Markowski-drums, vocals

Friday, February 10, 2012

Antwerp's Placebo (Hart-Kreutzmann)

"Antwerp's Placebo" could easily win a competition for "most obscure original Grateful Dead song," "least performed Grateful Dead cover version" and many similar designations. Indeed, most Deadheads do not even realize there is even a Grateful Dead song called "Antwerp's Placebo." More importantly, if they are reminded of it or if they pay attention to it, they aren't interested. "Antwerp's Placebo," actually entitled "Antwerp's Placebo (The Plumber)", appeared as track 3 on side two of the 1980 Arista Grateful Dead album Go To Heaven. It was a 38-second percussion duet, full of odd clicks and sounds, that provides a brief musical transition between "Saint Of Circumstance" (track 2) and "Easy To Love You" (track 4). The purpose of this post is not to explain the inclusion of this odd little percussion track on the album, but rather to give some informed speculation as to why the track was given a title.

The front cover of the 1980 Grateful Dead album Go To Heaven (Arista Records)
The Grateful Dead Go To Heaven (Arista Records 1980)
Once the Grateful Dead moved to Arista Records at the end of 1976, they made a conscious effort to make commercially viable albums that would make the band a lot of money. While this was Arista label head Clive Davis's reason for existence, I do not think anyone's arm was twisted. The Grateful Dead were a commercial organization, and the revenues from successful albums like Workingman's Dead and American Beauty must have been welcome indeed. The Dead must have recognized that they were somewhat out of step with the times, and seemed willing to work with outside producers. Terrapin Station had been recorded with Keith Olsen, who had produced Fleetwood Mac. Olsen had also produced Bob Weir's solo album Heaven Help The Fool. After an interesting if incomplete attempt to record an album with Lowell George (John Kahn had to finish Shakedown Street), the Dead decided to record their next album with producer Gary Lyons.

Gary Lyons was best known for producing the 1977 debut album of the group Foreigner. The album had scored huge hits with the songs "Feels Like The First Time" and "Cold As Ice." Even though teenaged rock snobs (like me) felt that Foreigner was just a poppy knockoff of groups like Free and Spooky Tooth, there's no question that Lyons clean, sharp production made Foreigner's catchy songs instantly memorable. In 1979, Lyons had also produced most of the Aerosmith album A Night In The Ruts, so he was a hot commodity in the record business.

The Grateful Dead album that was released in April 1980 as Go To Heaven was produced by Lyons, but recorded at Le Club Front in San Rafael, with Betty Cantor as the chief engineer. Thus the album was a compromise between the Dead recording in a comfortable environment while handing the board over to an established professional. Also, there had to be a financial advantage to have the Dead recording in their home studio. By working with Lyons, the Dead were making an implicit choice that they wanted to make an album that would get played on FM rock radio stations (known as "Album Oriented Rock" stations). That meant a punchy drum sound, crisp guitar solos, and memorable hooks and choruses. I don't think anyone twisted the Dead's arms: if they had managed a Foreigner sized hit, or even a half-a-Foreigner, it would have resolved a lot of economic pressure on the band and the various band members.

"Antwerp's Placebo" is a somewhat pale shadow of some old-style Grateful Dead weirdness, a pushing and pulling sound with some odd clicking noises. I suspect it was supposed to be reminiscent of a plumber cleaning out a pipe, but I can't really say.  I think the material was included as a touch of the strange to remind listeners that the Grateful Dead still had a sense of fun and experimentation, even if the songs on the record were typical AOR fare like "Althea" or "Saint Of Circumstance." Although--honestly--"Antwerp's Placebo" sounds dumb to me, it might have sounded good on headphones, and may have been included for that reason.

Mechanical Royalties
One reason that most Deadheads were not aware of "Antwerp's Placebo" was that the song title did not even appear on the back of the album. The back of Go To Heaven only lists eight songs. However, if you were a loser graduate student with no life or girlfriend--just to take an of-course hypothetical example--you might actually take the time to compare the record label to the back cover and discover the additional track. The actual record label credits "Antwerp's Placebo" to Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann as songwriters (so to speak). What would the advantage have been to assigning an extra track to specific composers, rather than simply leaving the excerpt as an instrumental introduction to "Easy To Love You?"

An article I read some decades ago in Musician magazine, no longer directly accessible to me, explained many peculiarities of the music industry in the 1960s and '70s. Most rock fans thought of "royalties" from record sales as some sort of monolithic annuity, but in fact the entire process was multi-faceted. The royalties for album sales, typically about 8-10% of each record sold, were shared amongst band members and other stakeholders. Royalties were not paid until the band's portion of them exceeded costs associated with advances, recording and promotion. Expensive albums like Aoxomoxoa probably did not make the Grateful Dead any money for a long time. Typically, many rock band members saw nothing but an advance from albums that they had made.

However, there was another source of revenue for band members, known as mechanical royalties, and knowing how 'mechanicals' worked goes a long way towards illuminating some of the motives of the record business in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Music publishing was originally just that, as sheet music was published and sold, and the revenue was split between the publisher and the writer, similar to a book. A knowledgeable person explained to me that mechanical royalties stemmed from payments associated with mechanical 'player' pianos in the early 20th century. When records came in, the concept of mechanical royalties was extended to record sales, radio play and other forms of public performance. The record companies paid mechanical royalties to the publisher, who split the proceeds between themselves and the songwriters (or, technically, the songwriters copyright holder). Songwriters also received royalties for public performance rights.

Two clearing houses handled most of the publishing payments, BMI and ASCAP (the Dead's publishing company, Ice Nine, was handled by ASCAP). The subject is too byzantine even for this blog, but suffice to say ASCAP and BMI act to collect royalties for composers. Radio stations and other licensees, like concert halls, paid money to BMI and ASCAP who in turn paid them to composers, by some sort of formula. Although publishing companies received some money directly from record companies, payment to their writers was not dependent on debts being repaid to the record company, so regardless of how unlikely a band might be to get money from their record company, songwriting royalties could provide another income stream in the event of a hit record.

One of the strange rules delineated by this long-lost Musician article was that songwriters received royalties for up to 10 tracks per album. If an album had more than 10 tracks, the money was divided up somehow. However, if the album had less than 10 tracks, the songwriters did not receive additional money. Have you ever wondered why so many 60s and 70s albums had exactly 10 tracks, no more, no less? That's the reason. The rule didn't apply in the UK, by the way, which is why British albums by the Beatles and Rolling Stones were different and longer.

Thus, 60s bands who recorded lengthy tracks had a vested interest in having 10 tracks. One reason that side two of Anthem Of The Sun has those made up song titles and writing credits was clearly so that members of the band could receive some royalties. If the band had simply entitled side two, say, "That's It For The Other One" and assigned the writing to the whole band, they would have all received less money. Now, it may not have mattered so much for a modestly selling record like Anthem, which received very little radio airplay, but for a hit album the returns were enormous. When performance (ASCAP and BMI) royalties were combined with songwriting royalties from album sales, the returns could be huge.

When an album became a hit, even if it was due mainly to one song, all the songwriters on the record benefited from the album sales. In an extreme but revealing case, the English songwriter Nick Lowe, after decades of wonderful but relatively obscure records, performed a song that he wrote on a hit soundtrack album ("Impossible Bird" from The Bodyguard). Some time later, he went out to his mailbox to find he had received a check from his music publisher for over one million pounds. Thus having fewer than 10 songs on a potential hit album was like giving money away. From that point of view, it's clear that "Antwerp's Placebo" was given a title on Go To Heaven in order to collect revenue that might otherwise be left aside.

The back cover to the Go To Heaven lp
Songwriting and The Economics of Band Politics
In the 60s and 70s, artists generally signed contracts that were hugely slanted towards the record companies. In a few instances, a well-managed major artist could get some leverage and get a better contract, but the system greatly favored the record companies. Prior to the Beatles, bands were more like performers, with other people providing the songs and sometimes recording the songs as well. But the Beatles were self-contained, and they were artists, not just performers, and their perception of their own work was different. Bands like the Grateful Dead wanted material success, but they saw themselves as compatriots as well as business partners. The contracts that record companies demanded from musicians, however, were often tailor made to insure that bands were not going to survive success.

In general, the musicians who wrote the songs ended up making considerably more money on a hit album than the ones who didn't. In fact, the authors of the "B-side" of a hit single made as much money as the A-side, so that too was often a big surprise. Since songwriting royalties were not identical to artists royalties, the songwriters often got paid more and quicker than the other band members. Many 60s bands suffered when one or two members got very wealthy from songwriting, while others were still scuffling. Jerry Garcia and to a lesser extent Bob Weir would have received considerably more money than the other band members from the Dead's albums, and it would not have gone unnoticed.

Bands dealt with the conflict over songwriting royalties in different ways. Some bands, like Led Zeppelin or The Doors (and more recently REM), simply assigned all songs to the group itself. It's worth noting that those groups had considerably fewer fights over money, whatever other problems they had. Other bands dealt with it by letting everyone in the band write at least one song on every album. This worked out fine with, say, The Beatles, where George and Ringo had a lot to contribute, but throughout the 1970s every Jefferson Starship album was full of a lot of filler due to overly cooperative songwriting policies. Such a policy was admirable on a personal level, but it made for a lot of dud tracks.

Typically, the Grateful Dead seemed to have dealt with the songwriting issue by assigning certain tracks to the entire group. Since the Dead released numerous live albums, they could always label part of a jam with a title and assign it to the whole group. This would explain, for example, while jams on the original Europe '72 album were given titles like "Epilogue" and "Prelude." Now, double and triple albums had different rules about how many tracks received royalties, but the basic principle was still the same: there was a certain number of songs that meant more money if there were enough of them. Thus all those tracks like "Feedback" and "Mud Love Buddy," whether on Live/Dead or Dick's Picks, insured some kind of payout to every band member at the time of the recording. As it happened, the Grateful Dead never had a hit live album on the scale of Frampton Comes Alive, but if they had hit it big, everyone in the band would have got something.

From a royalty point of view, "Antwerp's Placebo" makes perfect sense. The band and Gary Lyons had a musical reason for producing the quirky percussion interlude, but having produced it the composition was assigned to Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann. Go To Heaven was designed to be a hit album, and if "Alabama Getaway" had swept the nation, Mickey and Billy would have gotten a nice check, along with Jerry, Bob and Brent (while Phil would have been SOL). Of course, most of the Dead's revenue came from touring, and that appeared to have been shared equally, so the credits were less important than they were for some bands, but the presence on the label of "Antwerp's Placebo" shows that the Grateful Dead were preparing for success.

Go To Heaven sold modestly well, but the album didn't really capture the ears of FM radio listeners. I like the songs on the record well enough, but they are minor songs in the Dead canon, with nothing iconic that would have gotten into high rotation, like a "Casey Jones." Mickey and Billy must have gotten a little extra, but the album wasn't huge, so they didn't get a massive payday out of "Antwerp's Placebo." The fact that the song was labeled, however, shows that the Dead had high hopes for the album, even if they were not met. While my explanation of the economics of the song's likely inclusion are simplistic--to some extent on purpose and to some extent due to gaps in my knowledge--I am confident that I am close enough to justify my line of reasoning.

As to "Antwerp's Placebo," it remains obscure, and rightly so. There does seem to be a San Francisco-based Grateful Dead style band called Antwerp's Placebo, but I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't even perform the song. At some point, the track was added to the back cover of at least one cd release, but by this time I think even graduate students without girlfriends didn't even notice, and the song remains on the fringes of the Grateful Dead's history.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Gaylord Birch-Drums

Gaylord Birch playing drums for The Pointer Sisters, circa 1974
When the Jerry Garcia Band ground to a halt in 1978, Garcia fans did not know what to expect with his next group, Reconstuction, which appeared on the scene in January of 1979. Most fans, myself included, were not quite ready for a jazz-funk band where Garcia was just the lead guitarist, singing the occasional song along with some other lead vocalists. I myself enjoyed the band the one time I saw them (May 19, 1979), but I couldn't really take it all in. In retrospect, however, Reconstruction holds up very well as a fascinating, sophisticated band. In fact, although most Deadheads were only barely aware of it, Reconstruction's funky sound was very much in a groove with contemporary jazz at the time, drawing inspiration from groups like Herbie Hancock's Headhunters. One of the keys to Reconstruction's sound was drummer Gaylord Birch (1946-1996). Although Birch was hardly a household name, it turns out that he was well known amongst musicians as one of the best drummers in Oakland, a not at all inconsiderable title.

Oakland, CA
Oakland had been a great California city, primarily because it was the terminus of the first Transcontinental Railroad, and many other rail lines besides. After World War 2, however, when people could afford private automobiles to drive themselves across the Bay Bridge (opened in 1936), Oakland slowly shrank in importance. Still, along with its thriving container port, Oakland had two major exports in the early 1970s: great sports teams and innovative funk music. Along with the Oakland A's, Oakland Raiders and Golden State Warriors, champions all, Oakland had some popular and influential funk bands. Tower of Power were originally from Fremont, but had relocated to Oakland by the time they burst onto the world in 1970. Herbie Hancock's groundbreaking Headhunters album and band had an Oakland rhythm section, with bassist Paul Jackson and drummer Mike Clark. On the popular side were The Pointer Sisters, four Oakland sisters who had learned to sing in church and played catchy soul music, while still keeping it real with some lowdown Oaktown funk.

The Pointer Sisters were first discovered by Elvin Bishop, who started using them as part-time backup singers when some of them were still in High School. In fact, Elvin alludes to them on the Oct 10 '68 Mickey And The Hartbeats tape, when he says he has some backup singers who "sing like Angels." Through working with Bishop for the next few years, the four sisters (Anita, Bonnie, June and Ruth) started to get known. Not only did they sing like angels, but they were tall, attractive, elegant and great dancers. How could they miss?

They didn't miss. The Pointer Sisters were signed to Blue Thumb Records and released their first album in 1973. They had a great hit with a funky, swinging version of Allen Toussaint's "Yes We Can-Can" ("Now is the time for all good men/to get together with one another"). The Pointer Sisters' secret weapon was bandleader and drummer Gaylord Birch. Birch had played in many Oakland ensembles, but he was well-known, by Mike Clark most of all, as the funkiest of Oakland drummers, and that's saying a lot. Birch led the Pointer Sisters band from about 1973 to 1976 (for a glimpse of Birch with the Pointer Sisters, see here).

"How Long (Betcha Got A Chick On The Side)" was the Pointer Sisters' biggest and most memorable hit. Anita and Bonnie Pointer, along with producer David Rubinson, wrote the song. It is catchy and hummable, but at the same time Birch drives it along with an irresistible dance beat, pushing and pulling so you can't help feeling the funk. Once again, this is a song that many Deadheads will assert that they don't recognize, until they actually hear it. In some cases, younger listeners may actually recognize the song from a sample (by Salt N Pepa) or a cover (by Queen Latifah), as the song prefigures modern rap and R&B music in all of the best ways. Although the Pointer Sisters have had a variety of ups and downs, they are still together, representing for Oakland and looking and sounding great.

Oakland's primary 70s jazz export was the rhythm section for Herbie Hancock's Headhunters. The Headhunters showed that it was possible to play far out jazz while maintaining an exciting, danceable beat the whole time, and they were hugely successful, even after Hancock moved on. The Headhunters were driven by Oakland's finest players, bassist Paul Jackson and drummer Mike Clark.  Clark recalled Birch's playing in an interview: 
When I developed my funk style in the Bay Area there were two other guys who were playing a similar style: Dave Garibaldi [of Tower Of Power] and Gaylord Birch. That was like the Bay Area style. When you walked by a night club, that's what you heard at that time. It was a really exciting period....
The other drummer who was into this Bay Area style at that time was a really great drummer named Gaylord Birch. He was a strong performer who played funk and jazz and he had a red hot spirit. He was so fiercely hot that it was scary. What made him magnificent was that he had hands like Sugar Ray Robinson. To watch him was gorgeous, his movement around the set was so graceful it reminded me of Sugar Ray. He put shots together that were uncanny and he could raise the spirit so high, you would jump for joy. This guy was an amazing drummer.
He played with the Pointer Sisters and with Cold Blood, but really, he played in his own bands and other people's bands and organ groups around Oakland, and that's where you got to hear the real stuff. That other stuff was great but it was produced and he had to do like we all did, he had to deal with the business. But at home, in the back alley, is where you could really hear Gaylord get down. He was frightening.
The importance of Clark's opinion can't be overstated. Mike Clark's praise of Birch as a funky drummer is comparable to Jerry Garcia praising a guitarist as an improviser. Clark took Oakland funk worldwide, so his influences were important for that alone. Besides the Pointer Sisters and plenty of session work, Birch also had stints with Graham Central Station, Cold Blood and Santana. Birch played with Cold Blood about 1973, and appeared on the live Vintage Blood cd that was released in 2001. He also toured with Santana from July to October 1976, although I'm not aware of any albums he played on.

Gaylord Birch and Jerry Garcia
Gaylord Birch seems to have been friendly with Merl Saunders, which appears to be true of most of the jazz and funk musicians in the Bay Area in the late 60s and early 70s. Since Merl was signed to Fantasy Records by 1968, I suspect that Merl's connection to Gaylord Birch goes back at least to those days, when Fantasy was located in Oakland. Birch played on at least two sessions with Merl where Jerry Garcia played, so Birch and Garcia must have met prior to Reconstruction. On Saunders' Fire Up album, released in 1973, Birch played congas on "Expressway To Your Heart" (Bill Vitt played drums). That track could have been overdubbed, but Birch was the trap drummer on a January 14, 1974 Saunders track called "Bolinas Brown," released in 1997 on the Keepers cd, which featured Garcia on lead guitar.

JGMF reports the intriguing knowledge that Garcia used to sit in for some of Saunders more low key gigs in the 1974-75 period, and a variety of Bay Area drummers may have played the dates, including possibly Gaylord Birch. So it's not impossible that Birch and Garcia had shared a stage prior to Reconstruction, although hardly certain. However, when John Kahn put Reconstruction together, Birch had never actually been in a true band setting with Garcia, even though they had played together.

Merl Saunders reported that Birch asked him once on stage during a Reconstruction show what an unanticipated cheer was for, and Merl said "Jerry moved his leg." While this story was no doubt exaggerated for effect, the point of it was that Birch had no idea of the devotion of Deadheads to Garcia. Birch was no innocent--he had toured for years with the Pointer Sisters and played with Santana, but Garcia was in a different category. Nonetheless, like all the other members of Reconstruction, Birch answered the challenge and played absolutely brilliantly.

Birch was the drummer for Reconstruction throughout their entire existence, from January through September 1979. Interestingly, Birch made an encore appearance, serving as the Jerry Garcia Band drummer for 10 local gigs from October 7, 1985 through February 21, 1986. I assume that David Kemper was otherwise booked, and Birch filled the chair. Certainly it was a mark of his stature that he was invited back, if only briefly. I listened to his final appearance at The Stone, and it seemed to me, in any case, that Birch favored some fairly fast tempos, giving the JGB a surprisingly lively feel.

Gaylord Birch continued his career as a world class drummer, although he never played with Garcia again after 1986, to my knowledge. He did rejoin Santana for a World Tour in the Spring of 1991, filling in for Billy Johnson on the traps. In that role, Birch was in Santana when they co-headlined the Sam Boyd Silver Bowl in Las Vegas with the Grateful Dead on April 27-28, 1991. In a broad sense, then, Birch shared the stage again with Garcia, but not at the same time.

Unfortunately, Gaylord Birch died of cancer in 1996, at the age of 50. Clearly he had a lot of music left in him, but it was not to be. However, his musical legacy is powerful, if not widely known. He drives classic Pointers hits like "Yes We Can Can" and "How Long," and his work with Garcia seems better to me every year, as I become more knowledgeable about what he was actually doing. But don't take my word for it; find a Reconstruction tape, turn it up, and listen to Gaylord Birch playing the drums--the man could lay it down.  Like Dave Garibaldi, Mike Clark or Rickey Henderson, he represented and did Oakland proud