|Fillmore: The Last Days lp, released June 1972|
The Sixties were a very self-conscious generation, with the participants constantly testifying to the importance of events even as they were happening. Indeed, what are perceived today as the major rock events of the 1960s are largely seen that way because of documents left behind. When bands had released considerably fewer albums, and cassette decks, much less YouTube and the Internet, were just a sort of dream, movies and albums like Monterey Pop, Woodstock and Gimme Shelter went a long way towards defining the world's perception of seminal 60s music events. More people have surely seen Jimi Hendrix's performance in the Monterey Pop movie than ever saw Hendrix, and bands like Ten Years After and Joe Cocker had their careers made by the Woodstock movie and album. You can try it yourself: find a crowd of people--probably not at work--and shout "Gimme an F!" Everybody knows what comes next, even if they've never heard of Country Joe and The Fish.
The Grateful Dead were attendant at many of the largest and most important 60s musical events, and yet they left no contemporary musical or visual evidence of their presence. The 1967 Monterey Pop Festival was filmed for a projected ABC-TV special, which was never aired, but instead turned into a sort of 'Art House' movie. Most of the artists in the Monterey Pop movie (Jimi Hendrix Experience, Jefferrson Airplane and Janis Joplin among them) were even bigger by the time the movie was released in 1969, so the movie has had a wide following over the years. The Grateful Dead, however, refused to be filmed or recorded, so they don't appear on any of the subsequent extended releases of the movie and concert album (released in the 1990s).
Similarly, the Dead refused to be filmed for the Woodstock movie. Now, we know they played terribly, but they insured that they would never benefit the way Joe Cocker or Country Joe did even if they had played well. Garcia does appear uncredited on the Woodstock album, saying "Exhibit A" (in the movie, he is holding up a joint), but that was an inside joke. Of course, the Dead didn't get to play at all at Altamont. According to my cousin, Bill Graham's plans to make a movie of the Watkins Glen festival, at that time the largest outdoor rock concert ever, were thwarted when the Dead refused to agree to being filmed. However, knowing that the Grateful Dead's staunch resistance to allowing themselves to be filmed, despite the implicit damper it would put on their career, it makes it all the more significant that the Dead allowed themselves to be filmed and recorded for their concert at the final week of Fillmore West, preserved in the 1972 Fillmore movie and the June, 1972 Columbia album Fillmore: The Last Days.
The Closing Of The Fillmore West
The Grateful Dead had first played for Bill Graham at the old Fillmore Auditorium, on 1805 Geary Blvd on December 10, 1965. However, the Dead had always had a contested professional relationship with Graham, and the band had opened a larger competing venue, the Carousel Ballroom. The Carousel was about a mile away, at 1545 Market Street (at Van Ness). However, the Dead's naive mismanagement of the venue allowed Graham to take it over and rename it the Fillmore West. Nonetheless, despite having been bested, the Dead still played both the Fillmore East and Fillmore West many times for Bill Graham. However, by 1971 both venues were too small for the booming rock market, and the Fillmore West building had been sold to the Howard Johnson's hotel chain, so Graham decided to close both places. The Fillmore East had its final concert on June 27, 1971, and the Fillmore West closed the next week.
There were six nights of concerts during the final week of Fillmore West, from June 29 through July 4, 1971, most of them broadcast on KSFX-fm. Bill Graham was always a great self-promoter, so a big hullabaloo was made about the concerts. Graham was an aspiring mogul, as well, so he arranged to have a movie made and an album recorded. The Woodstock movie and album had been huge successes on a mammoth scale, and the promoters of Woodstock never had to work again. Graham was looking for a similar gold strike. However complex and contested the Grateful Dead's relationship with Bill Graham may have been, for his sake the band made their only exception to being filmed by outsiders. As a result, there are two Grateful Dead songs on the Fillmore: The Last Days triple album ("Casey Jones" and "Johnny B. Goode" from the July 2, 1971 Fillmore West show). The album also featured the first officially released live recording of the New Riders Of The Purple Sage, with Jerry Garcia on pedal steel guitar, performing "Henry." The Dead's performance of "Johnny B. Goode" was in the Fillmore movie, along with some scenes of Garcia tuning his pedal steel during a basketball game. Apparently, he was tuning his guitar for the Rowan Brothers set, but that wasn't plain at the time.
|The Fillmore DVD cover|
Bill Graham obviously conceived of the Fillmore movie as an homage to himself and the San Francisco rock scene of the 60s, with the Fillmore: The Last Days album as the soundtrack. Much as I personally enjoy the movies and the album, that view was not widely shared by the public at large. San Francisco had been perhaps the most important rock "scene" in the 60s, but it was feeling kind of tired by 1971. Janis Joplin was gone, having died the previous October. The Jefferson Airplane were off the road, with new mom Grace Slick taking a hiatus. Quicksilver Messenger Service was sounding very strained, with John Cipollina having left, and the group dominated by the nasally vocals of Dino Valenti. Sly And The Family Stone were hugely popular, but they had long since graduated from the Fillmore West. Creedence Clearwater Revival was happy to headline the final night, but for whatever reasons, probably related to their record company, they were not willing to be on film or on the album. Santana was the one relatively recent arrival who shone at the closing of the Fillmore West, although their performance was the last of the classic Abraxas lineup.
Fairly or not, the Fillmore album sounded kind of anemic in 1972. The Dead's two tracks, ably mixed by Steven Barncard, were simply an addendum to their then current album (Grateful Dead, aka 'Skull & Roses'). One of the songs, "Johnny B. Goode," had even been on that album. The other song, "Casey Jones," while classic and enjoyable, was hardly seminal. Much as I love Hot Tuna, the rest of America must have thought an extended blues jam on "Keep Your Lamps Trimmed And Burning" was a far cry from Grace and Marty soaring on "Volunteers." Quicksilver, once the pride of the Fillmore, by any objective standard sounded just terrible by 1971. Only Santana really stands out, with "Incident At Neshabur" and a unique version of Miles Davis's "In A Silent Way."
The rest of the album featured San Francisco bands, mostly with just an album or two under their belt. A few years earlier, up and coming San Francisco bands would have been the shape of things to come, but now they didn't really have an impact. Now, speaking personally, I am a huge fan of San Francisco music, so I love hearing Elvin Bishop or The Sons of Champlin, but that feeling wasn't shared nationally. Ironically enough, the two most forward looking performances on the record, by Malo and Tower Of Power, were simply too early for the rest of the country. Both of those groups would be hugely popular and influential worldwide, but their impact would not be felt for some time. Boz Scaggs and Elvin Bishop would go onto considerable success as well, but not in the specific incarnations on the Fillmore album. A few other groups, like It's A Beautiful Day, Cold Blood, Stoneground and Lamb, just sound like second tier groups today, and the record buying public didn't disagree.
The final night of Fillmore West, on July 4, 1971, featured Creedence, Santana and Tower Of Power, the two of the most popular bands from San Francisco (Creedence and Santana) and two of the most influential (Santana and Tower), and the evening ended with a couple of hours of epic if formless jamming, some of it broadcast on KSFX-fm. However, the Fillmore album merely included some rather uninspired blues jamming from an earlier show in the week (with Elvin Bishop and Taj Mahal). I don't doubt that contracts prevented the final night's jam from being released, but it was a mistake to fill up the record with some dull blues. It suggested that the legacy of the Fillmore was just some overrated shuffles in major keys, with nothing that merited a second listen, playing into the prejudices of early 70s fans who thought the Fillmore was just for stoners. Fillmore: The Last Days was not much of a success, and the Fillmore movie bombed. It was a few years too late, so nobody even noticed that it was the Grateful Dead's only contribution to the industry of commemorative festival movies and soundtrack albums.
I'm aware that the Grateful Dead contributed an amazing recording of "Dark Star," from April 8, 1972 at Wembley, to the Glastonbury Fayre album. Remarkable as that was, the Glastonbury Fayre album was a different sort of project, very much a hippie non-profit thing. Even though an unexpected hit single came off that record (Hawkwind's "Silver Machine"), the enterprise wasn't designed as a showcase for mass market appeal, and the release was a relatively limited edition (not surprising for a triple-lp with a do-it-yourself pyramid insert).
The Grateful Dead At Fillmore West, July 2, 1971
Ironically, while the Dead's performances at Monterey Pop and Woodstock were unmemorable and dreadful, respectively, and they didn't play at all at Altamont, they actually played pretty well at the closing of the Fillmore West. While much of the material from their Fillmore set was featured on the Skull & Roses album, they could have hinted at their power by allowing a very different version of one of those songs to be released. On July 2, they also performed a 17+ minute version of "Good Lovin'"--that would have been something to remember Fillmore West by. And yet, they released a basic version of their most popular song, and a fairly dumb cover of a rock standard, which in turn had just been released on their own record. What could they have been thinking?
Over the years, the principal concern about live releases of the Grateful Dead has always been sound. With professional recording gear and Steve Barncard mixing, I don't think the Dead would have been that concerned what was chosen. Warner Brothers Records, their label, would also have been fairly flexible in this instance. For one thing, all record labels had seen that the Woodstock album had made a lot of careers, and would have been open minded about allowing one of their acts to release a live track. The Woodstock album had been on an Atlantic affiliate (Cotillion), but numerous acts on other labels had benefited enormously by allowing their music to be licensed (examples included Joe Cocker on A&M, The Who on Decca and Santana on Columbia, to name just a few). In any case, Warners was trying to get the Grateful Dead to re-sign with them, and would not have wanted to alienate them by refusing to let them license a track to Bill Graham's album project, even though it was being released on Columbia.
My own belief is that out of long-standing personal friendship with Bill Graham, and despite their complex business history, the Grateful Dead made an exception to their own preferences and allowed themselves to be filmed and recorded for his Fillmore project. I also believe that they would have been willing to let Graham use whatever he wanted from their performance. Sure, they would have objected if there was a technical problem with a track (or Garcia was out-of-tune, or something), but in general, I think having given permission the Dead would likely have agreed to any reasonable suggestion by Graham and his Columbia producers, Jeffrey Cohen and Bruce Good.
However, I think Graham and his producers thought small and picked the wrong tracks. While I hardly think the week of June 29-July 4, 1971 was the best week of San Francisco music, there was plenty of fine music played. I'm not guessing--almost all of it circulates on tape in one form or another. With the exception of Santana and arguably a few other tracks, I think the producers made very poor choices. They consistently chose the simplest and most accessible songs by each artist, and for the angular nature of Fillmore music that was not a good criteria.
In the case of the Dead, a Chuck Berry song and a popular FM song with a catchy hook may seem like good choices, but both tracks tire quickly, even to hard core Deadheads. Conversely, if the Fillmore lp had included 17 minutes of "Good Lovin,'" in an era when almost no tapes existed, the effect would have been very different indeed. Certainly, a professionally shot Pigpen rap would be truly memorable today. As a point of comparison, Ten Years After's career was made by the inclusion of their rave-up on "I'm Going Home" being included in its entirety in the Woodstock movie and album, and in retrospect it was not an obvious choice. Yet I can remember seeing Woodstock in a midnight movie (at the Varsity Theater in Palo Alto in about 1972) and being absolutely mesmerized by "I'm Going Home", even though I had heard it already on the album. If Graham's producers had included "Good Lovin,'", or "Not Fade Away">"Going Down The Road">"Not Fade Away," it might have been truly stunning, but they thought small.
Everyone, including me at the time, took for granted that the Grateful Dead would be included in the Fillmore album and movie, and never paid attention to it. In fact, the movie and album became mere footnotes, and as more and more Grateful Dead material became available formally and informally, the two tracks that were actually released became less important. I have to think that the Dead must have only conceded to allow the tracks due to their long standing friendship with Graham, and when the album and movie bombed, they felt free to return to their policy of refusing all such proposals. While we don't lack for recorded Grateful Dead, professionally filmed Dead music has been very hard to come by from the early days, and the one moment when it could have happened seems to have been frittered away on "Johnny B. Goode."