Friday, April 20, 2012

Bob Weir Band>Bobby And The Midnites 1977-84

The cover to the Arista album Bobby & The Midnites, released in November 1981
From 1977 to 1984, Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir made a conscious effort to be a rock star in the style of Steve Miller of Boz Scaggs. Now, Weir was already a rock star by any standard, but he was cloistered in a peculiar Grateful Dead world. Given that Jerry Garcia had already set out on a singular path for his own solo career, and that Weir already had both a solo album (1972's Ace) and had recorded an album as a member of another group (1976's Kingfish), a 'conventional' rock star solo album was not far-fetched. Weir's album Heaven Help The Fool was produced by Keith Olsen, who had produced the hugely successful 1975 album Fleetwood Mac, as well as the Dead's Terrapin Station. Rather than a detailed discussion of Weir's efforts to be a conventional rock star, this post will focus on the history of the bands Weir formed in support of that effort, the Bob Weir Band and later Bobby And The Midnites, covering most of Weir's non-Dead live appearances from 1978 through 1984.

I originally developed this material for my own research, and felt it would be most productive to share it. The numbering systems for the groups are arbitrary, and only intended to ease discussion in the Comments. Anyone with corrections, insights, additional information or recovered memories (real or imagined) is encouraged to Comment or email me.

The Bob Weir Band
Bob Weir had played Ibanez guitars since about 1975, and Ibanez rep Jeff Hasselberger introduced him to Bobby Cochran in mid-to-late 1977. Cochran was the nephew of famed rocker Eddie Cochran, and he had grown up in Hollywood and the Southern California studio scene. Not only was Cochran an accomplished guitarist, he was comfortable working in an industry context with established veterans. By the end of 1977, among many other projects, Cochran had been a latterday member of John Kay's Steppenwolf, and had also been in the Flying Burrito Brothers. During the period that Cochran was in the Burritos, they changed their name to Sierra and released an album of the same name. That album included the song "I Found Love," which Cochran regularly with both the Bob Weir Band and Bobby And The Midnites.

Some paperwork suggests that the original Bob Weir Band tour was supposed to take place in December 1977, which suggests an earlier planned release date for Heaven Help The Fool. However, since the album was not released until January of 1978, it makes sense that the tour supporting it did not take place until the month after. However, given the Dead's planned touring schedule, the Bob Weir Band must have been put together by Weir and Cochran in the Fall of 1977, probably shortly after November 6, 1977(when the Dead's tour ended in Binghamton, NY). Weir and Cochran probably anticipated going out in December 1977, but in fact they were delayed some months.

The cover to Bob Weir's Arista album Heaven Help The Fool, released in January 1978
Bob Weir Band #1
First show: The Roxy, Los Angeles, CA February 17, 1978
Last show: Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, New York June 10, 1978
Bobby Cochran-lead guitar, vocals
Bob Weir-guitar, vocals
Brent Mydland-organ, keyboards, vocals
Rick Carlos-bass
John Mauceri-drums
Notes: According to some interviews I read at the time (probably in BAM Magazine), Bob Weir invited David Lindley to join him on his inaugural tour. Weir would likely have known Lindley from the various times that Lindley's 60s band Kaleidoscope had opened for the Grateful Dead. By the late 1970s, Lindley had become well-known as Jackson Browne's chief collaborator. However, the perpetually busy Lindley apparently turned Weir down--darn it--but recommended drummer John Mauceri.

Mauceri was auditioned and hired, and in turn brought in his partner Rick Carlos on bass. The pair had played together in various aggregations. They had backed up the duo Batdorf And Rodney on tour various times, and I had seen them backing up singer/songwriter David Blue in 1973 (along with future Eagle Don Felder). With the rhythm section intact, Carlos recommended his friend Brent Mydland to play organ. Carlos and Mydland had played together since high school, and Mydland had even played with Carlos behind Batdorf and Rodney (albeit not with Mauceri). By 1975, Mydland had ended up in the group Silver with John Batdorf, and they had released an obscure album on Arista.

Once Heaven Help The Fool was released in January 1978, The Bob Weir Band made an essentially traditional national tour in support of it, starting at the most high profile club in the industry, The Roxy in Los Angeles (on February 17, 1978). The band went on to play prestige rock clubs in major cities, and in between they played colleges or mid-sized cities where a winter appearance by any member of the Grateful Dead would always be welcome. In contrast to a typical Jerry Garcia Band tour, where a net profit was mandatory, the Weir Band's record-company supported was more focused on creating "buzz" and encouraging FM radio airplay.

After the national tour ended at the Old Waldorf in San Francisco on March 25, 1978, the Bob Weir Band still managed to sneak in a few high profile bookings. I know they played the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin, TX on April 27, probably as headliners. They also played two shows opening for Jefferson Starship at Nassau Coliseum on June 9-10, 1978.

Bob Weir Band #2
First show: Rancho Nicasio, Nicasio, CA October 16, 1978
Last show: Paramount Theater  Northwest, Seattle, WA October 28, 1978
Bobby Cochran-lead guitar, vocals
Bob Weir-guitar, vocals
Brent Mydland-organ, keyboards, vocals
Dee Murray-bass
John Mauceri-drums
Although Heaven Help The Fool hadn't become a big hit, Weir hadn't given up. Weir and Cochran organized another brief tour by the Bob Weir Band. Former Elton John Band bassist Dee Murray took over on bass, replacing Rick Carlos. After a few warmup Bay Area gigs, the Bob Weir Band opened three shows for the Jerry Garcia Band in the Pacific Northwest (October 26-28, 1978). As I have discussed elsewhere, these shows were significant because Jerry Garcia got to hear Brent Mydland play and sing, and told Weir "hey, this guy might work." Garcia's reference was to the apparently unspoken concern that Keith and Donna Godchaux's time with the Grateful Dead had run its course. Indeed, a few months later, Mydland got the fateful call from Weir, and by April of 1979 he was a member of the Grateful Dead.

Bobby And The Midnites #0
Golden Bear, Huntington Beach, CA July 30-31, 1980
Bobby Cochran-lead guitar, vocals
Bob Weir-guitar, vocals
Brent Mydland-organ, keyboards, vocals
[uncertain]-bass
[uncertain]-drums
Bob Weir had been playing Ibanez guitars since the mid-70s, and as an Ibanez client he attended the National Association of Music Manufacturers (NAMM) conference in Anaheim, CA in January of 1979. Ibanez had held their own special event at a satellite site, the Knotts Berry Farm amusement park, and various Ibanez clients had performed. Bobby Cochran led an Ibanez All-Star band with bassist Alphonso Johnson and drummer Billy Cobham. They were joined by various guests including Steve Miller and Bob Weir. Weir performed "Minglewood" with Cochran, Johnson, Cobham and others (the dates referenced in this fascinating link are slightly off). There is actually video of Weir's performance, which I have seen, and which is apparently accessible on YouTube.

After the January 1979 Knotts Berry Farm performance, Weir, Cochran, Johnson and Cobham played a Summer NAMM event in Atlanta in either 1979 or 1980, and Weir approached Cochran with the idea of the band which became Bobby And The Midnites, featuring Johnson and Cobham as the rhythm section. However, the busy schedule of the band members meant that it would actually be years before they all got to actually play together. Deadbase IX uncovered a mystery date by Bobby And The Midnites, June 30, 1980, long before any other performance. I have to assume that this low-key show was a "proof of concept" show, for the band members to determine that they were onto something. Other than Weir and Cochran, however, I have no idea who actually played. I suspect that Brent Mydland, Alphonso Johnson and Billy Cobham were in the band that day, but given the peculiar history of the Midnites that is far from certain

[update: based on a poster in the Grateful Dead Archives, it appears that the "Bobby And The Midnites" show that Deadbase found for the Golden Bear was actually on July 30-31, 1980. Interestingly, the band was billed as "Kingfish with special guest Bob Weir, and Bobby Cochran, Tim Bogert and Gregg Errico." So it seems this was some kind of Weir Band/Midnites hybrid. I presume that Matt Kelly was part of the group, and plausibly Brent was along for the ride, too.]

Notwithstanding that both Weir and Cochran were named Bob, Bobby Cochran had been in a fairly successful teenage band called Li'l Willy Gee And The Midniters, so the name 'Midniters' seemed to be an homage to that band.

Bobby And The Midnites #1
First show: The Catalyst, Santa Cruz, CA September 18, 1980
Last show: Freeborn Hall, UC Davis, Davis, CA January 31, 1981
Bobby Cochran-lead guitar, vocals
Bob Weir-guitar, vocals
Matthew Kelly-harmonica, guitar
Brent Mydland-organ, keyboards, vocals
Tim Bogert-bass
Carmine Appice-drums
To Dead fans, Bobby And The Midnites seemingly appeared from nowhere, playing 3 dates in the Bay Area right before the Grateful Dead's Warfield shows. No explanation was offered in the press for what might have been planned, and the idea that Weir, Cochran and Mydland were playing with two members of Vanilla Fudge seemed unfathomable. Of course, there has never been any subsequent explanation, either. As nearly as I can figure out, Weir and Cochran had a concept of Bobby And The Midnites that they had worked out with Alphonso Johnson and Billy Cobham, but conflicting schedules forced them to initiate the Midnites with Bogert and Appice.

Bobby And The Midnites #1 played three club dates in the Bay Area (Sep 18-20, 1980), and then an eight or nine date tour of small theaters in the East Coast (November 1980). There was an encore of six more shows in January of 1981. Bogert and Appice have had such epic careers with the Fudge, Jeff Beck and a Who's Who of rock (not to mention a chance meeting with Don Preston in O'Hare International Airport) that they don't even mention playing with Weir in their various biographies. I have to assume that Bogert and Appice were high-class substitutes until Alphonso Johnson and Billy Cobham were available. Bogert and Appice had been in the band Cactus, who had opened for the Grateful Dead on May 16, 1970, in Philadelphia (Jimi Hendrix was the headliner), but I don't necessarily think that Weir, Bogert and Appice ever made any more than a casual connection at that time.

Bobby And The Midnites #2
Studio only (Bobby And The Midnites album)
Bobby Cochran-lead guitar, vocals
Bob Weir-guitar, vocals
Matthew Kelly-harmonica, guitar
Brent Mydland-organ, keyboards, vocals
Alphonso Johnson-bass
Billy Cobham-drums
Notes: The debut album by Bobby & The Midnites was produced by Gary Lyons for Arista Records. Lyons, the former producer of Foreigner among others, had just finished the Grateful Dead's Go To Heaven album. Weir's previous album had been produced by Keith Olsen, who had just finished Terrapin Station, so clearly the record industry saw plenty of potential in Weir as a rock star. The Midnites album was very well recorded, but I felt it suffered from unimpressive songs. The best song on the album, to my ears--and probably Gary Lyons' ears, since it led off side 1--was "Haze," with six co-writers. "Haze" was written by Weir, Cochran, Mydland, Kelly, Daoud Shaw and Essra Mohawk.

Shaw and Mohawk had been the drummer and backup singer for the Jerry Garcia Band in the Summer of 1981, and I have to suspect that the song came out of some sort of studio jam or rehearsal. Over the years, there was relatively little crossover between Garcia and Weir's extracurricular bands, so "Haze" was a notable exception. Essra Mohawk, an extremely interesting figure, was just a harmony singer for the Garcia Band for about a dozen shows in 1981, but she had a very interesting career as a solo artist and songwriter. I have to think that her contributions, whatever exactly they may have been, were a factor in making "Haze" a good song. I'm not aware, however, that the Midnites ever performed the song "Haze" in concert, and even if they did, they didn't do it very often.

Bobby And The Midnites were announced on the Grateful Dead hotline as performing as part of a large benefit concert for MUSE (an Anti-Nuclear Energy group), on June 14, 1981 at the Los Angeles Forum. Alphonso Johnson was announced as the bassist on the hotline, but I'm not certain whether Billy Cobham or someone else played drums. I assume they played a brief set, but the truth is, I'm not convinced a MUSE Benefit was held at the Forum on June 14 (this subject is kind of esoteric--anyone with any knowledge about this, please put it in the Comments).

Bobby And The Midnites #3
First show: Fox-Warfield Theater, San Francisco, CA January 12, 1982
Last show: Hammersmith Odeon, London, GB February 4, 1983
Bobby Cochran-lead guitar, vocals
Bob Weir-guitar, vocals
Dave Garland-keyboards, tenor sax, vocals
Alphonso Johnson-bass
Billy Cobham-drums
Notes: Bobby And The Midnites made their true stab at stardom starting in January of 1982. It wasn't a bad plan: Bob Weir was a genuine rock star, both Bobbys were good guitarists and handsome to boot, and the rhythm section featured two jazz fusion legends. Weir's peculiar status as a full-time member of the Grateful Dead seemed to suit the other members fine. Cochran had a career as a producer and studio musician, and Cobham and Johnson had plenty of jazz and solo projects to work on. In fact, the profusion of projects of those two may have delayed the 'official' debut of Bobby And The Midnites for some time after the quartet's first jam at the January, 1979 Ibanez NAMM show at Knotts Berry Farm.

Taking over the keyboard slot from Brent was Dave Garland, an experienced studio hand. Garland had also been in the Orange County band Big Foot, who not only released an album but also had opened for the Grateful Dead at Fillmore West back in February, 1970. Garland played keyboards and sang harmonies, and even added a little tenor sax. Matt Kelly had dropped out of the Midnites by this time, presumably more interested in working on his own music with Kingfish.

Bobby And The Midnites were a terrific live band. Although both Cobham and Johnson were great jazz players, they both genuinely enjoyed playing rock music.  Although Cobham had mostly played heavy jazz in the 60s (with Miles Davis, Horace Silver and many others), he had also played the Fillmore East with a fine jazz/rock group called Dreams in 1970, so he was plenty versatile. It was funny to hear guys who had played on Bitches Brew and with Weather Report work it on out to Marty Robbins' "Big Iron," but both Johnson and Cobham liked playing rock, and it showed on stage. 

Nonetheless, despite the charisma and talent of the Midnites, I felt that their material was sub par. There was nothing really wrong with any of their songs, but no number leaped out like Steve Miller's "Fly Like An Eagle" or Dire Straits "Money For Nothing," and the band hardly got any traction beyond Deadheads. Bobby And The Midnites #3 toured hard for about a year, and even had a brief European tour, with three dates (Feb 2-4, 1983) in Paris, Sheffield (Dingwall's) and London, but the album never got any airplay and the band was stuck in smaller places.

Bobby And The Midnites second album, Where The Beat Meets The Street, released on Columbia Records in January 1984
Bobby And The Midnites #4
First show: Keystone Palo Alto, Palo Alto, CA March 22, 1983
Last show: The Rio, Valley Stream, NY September 30, 1984
Bobby Cochran-lead guitar, vocals
Bob Weir-guitar, vocals
Dave Garland-keyboards, tenor sax, vocals
Ken Gradney-bass
Billy Cobham-drums
Notes: Alphonso Johnson left Bobby And The Midnites, but the band went right back out on the road. The Midnites toured as hard as the Jerry Garcia Band, a clear sign that Weir was taking the enterprise seriously. Now, granted, Grateful Dead finances were not great in the early 1980s, so Weir was benefiting from all the touring, but he could probably have made more money touring with less well-known (and thus cheaper) compatriots, so his effort was not inconsiderable.

Johnson's replacement on bass was Ken Gradney, formerly of Little Feat. Gradney was a fine player, but in a more economic, funky style than the jazzy Alphonso. I'm fairly certain that Gradney had been the bassist for Delaney And Bonnie And Friends back when they shared the Festival Express train across Canada with the Dead back in 1970, but I don't know for a fact that Gradney and Weir actually met back then (update: now I do. An alert Commenter pointed out some footage of Gradney and Weir hanging out on the Festival Express. Check out about 1:04 in).  It is interesting to reflect that by the 1980s, even though Weir was filling his band with Los Angeles session pros--Garland and Gradney--they both had opened for the Dead in different contexts over a decade before (as had Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice in Cactus).

As a footnote, although Gradney played on what I consider to be the best Little Feat albums, 1973's Dixie Chicken and 1974's  Feats Don't Fail Me Now, he had replaced original bassist Roy Estrada. Estrada, formerly of The Mothers Of Invention (surely you can all sing along to "Prelude To The Afternoon Of A Sexually Aroused Gas Mask" from Weasels Ripped My Flesh), had played on the Feat's first two albums. This means that Estrada, not Gradney, had played the original part on Lowell George's song "Easy To Slip," recorded by Weir on Heaven Help The Fool and a regular part of the Midnites live shows.

The last iteration of Bobby And The Midnites made another album, the largely forgotten Where The Beat Meets The Street. The album was released in early 1984 on Columbia, which would have been an interesting development had the album been a success. The album was produced by former Doobie Brother Jeff 'Skunk' Baxter, and featured not only the various Midnites, including both Gradney and Alphonso Johnson, but also some Hollywood session guys like Baxter, Brian Setzer (of The Stray Cats) and Steve Cropper. Oddly, Dave Garland is namechecked on the cover as a bnd member, but does not appear on the recording. Although the album featured a healthy dose of original material that the Midnites had been performing for some time, the record sunk like a stone, and even most Deadheads had no idea it was released.

Bobby And The Midnites continued to tour hard throughout 1984, but at a certain point it seemed like they were treading water. Any band featuring a member of the Grateful Dead always had a certain following, and having seen the last configuration of the Midnites twice, I can vouch for the fact that they were a good band. They even continued to play new, unreleased material as they kept touring. At a certain point, however, it was clear that the Midnites were going to remain second tier, and the band quietly ground to a halt in September, 1984. As far as I can tell, all the former members of Bobby And The Midnites remain friends, and there seems to have been various collaborations over the years.

The Bob Weir Band and Bobby And The Midnites were very serious efforts by Weir to do something separate from the Grateful Dead that was both popular and good. Very few professional musicians would play full time in a band as busy as the Grateful Dead and still find the time and energy to make the effort to record and tour with a completely different project over a period of four years. It's ironic, of course, that one of the very few musicians who would do such a thing was also a member of the Grateful Dead, so as a result Weir was constantly compared to Jerry Garcia and found wanting. Weir's not Jerry, but I saw Bobby And The Midnites four times, and they were terrific every time. For a "side project,' that's a rare result anywhere but in the Dead.

By the end of 1984, Weir seemed to have caught Garcia's bug permanently, and he has remained on the road ever since. After Bobby And The Midnites, Weir has never been without a performing entity for long, but the subsequent ensembles will be the subject of future posts. 

Appendix:
Bob Weir And Friends, Perkins Palace, Los Angles, CA March 10, 1983
Bobby Cochran-lead guitar, vocals
Bob Weir-guitar, vocals
Nicky Hopkins-piano
Tim Bogert-bass
Gregg Errico-drums
In 1983, Weir performed at a benefit for Medical Aid To El Salvador. I presume the full compliment of Midnites were not available, so Weir and Cochran used a pick-up band with a former Midnite (Bogert) and two former members of the Jerry Garcia Band (Hopkins and Errico). A tape circulates of this event, mostly consisting of enjoyable rockers.

4 comments:

  1. Kenny Gradney & Bobby @ 1:06

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fu4_yQY2EL0&feature=related

    They had indeed met by 1970, if not before.

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  2. Hello, I was wondering if you were aware of any live recording of Bobby and Midnites from the summer of '82? Specifically 6/16/82 @ Music Mtn? It was an epic show with the JGB playing a sizzler for an opening, and B&Mnites playing through a torrential rain. Recordings must exist as I have the JGB set. Thanks.

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    Replies
    1. I have actually heard a tape of the Bobby And The Midnites set from June 16 '82. During the drum solo, the taper talks into the mic and says "it is pouring with rain and I can't take this anymore" or words to that effect, and he shuts down. So the tape is out there, at least in part.

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    2. Thanks, I'll sniff around and see if I can find anything...

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