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].


1 comment:

  1. Great story.
    Dawson also mentions it in this article -
    http://www.pastemagazine.com/blogs/crawdaddy/2011/08/my-life-is-the-road-owsley-the-bear-stanley-was-a-friend-of-the-mac.html?p=1
    According to him, Owsley had sent Fleetwood Mac some LSD (via Hell's Angels couriers) while they were playing in New York in December 68. (So they must have bonded pretty well when they met in July 68!)

    While many people grouse about Pigpen's limited keyboard style in the Dead (actually, I thought he did pretty well), the fact is he'd started out as a blues piano player, and the Dead rarely played in that style.
    Some people are surprised to learn that it's Pigpen playing piano in the Dead's studio version of Tastebud (an outtake from their first album).

    The 1993 Golden Road issue has a couple pertinent quotes.
    Peter Albin: "When he would come over to my parents' place in the early 60s, he would tickle the ivories and I thought he was pretty good - though I never thought he'd become a keyboard player for a rock & roll band."
    Bob Weir: "I think every now and again [in Mother McCree's] we would do a gig at a place that would have a piano and Pigpen would play some."
    Tom Constanten: "I copped some of his lines where they seemed to be part of the piece. He was pretty good actually; his playing was commensurate with the type of music he was playing... If anything, I was trying to pick up on some of the stylistic things he was doing." (Of course, Constanten was a stranger to blues and r&b music.)

    There was also a telling incident a few months before, as cited in one of the JGMF posts, at the Sky River Rock Festival in Sep 68:
    http://jgmf.blogspot.com/2011/03/gd19680902-sky-river-rock-festival-and.html

    "The pinnacle of the festival was reached in a soulful blues session led by Big Mama Thornton, accompanied by James Cotton on mouth harp, Ron McKernan on organ, one of the Dead's two drummers, and a guitarist. The session, late in the afternoon of the final day, seemed to define blues playing in a way that many of the rock groups had only been able to approach. The Grateful Dead, who preceded Big Mama and were very, very good in their usual bag, sounded square by comparison. Behind Miss Thornton, Pigpen comped and comped and comped; almost no solos."
    So there you have it - to a Downbeat reviewer, the Dead were square and Pigpen was able to "define blues playing"!

    And another Pigpen incident - that same month of January 1969, the Dead met another new English group: Led Zeppelin. Zeppelin were playing the Fillmore West, and had a photo session at Herb Greene's studio, when the Dead arrived. Pigpen had a pistol and started firing it through the ceiling - reportedly, Zeppelin quickly vanished!
    Just think, there could've been a Dead/Zeppelin jam. The mind boggles.

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