Friday, April 6, 2012

Lyrics-Robert Hunter/Music-David Freiberg (1972-1975)

Thinking Small: The Long, Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle, by Andrea Holt (2012: Ballantine)
In the English speaking world, one of the pinnacles for a poet, playwright or songwriter is to have their words become part of the language. "To be or not to be" is evoked constantly, even by people who have no idea what Hamlet was trying to decide; Paul Simon, for all his great hits, seems to resonate the most for variations on the chorus of the song "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover." Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, too,  has passed into the language, with the phrase "what a long strange, trip its been." The phrase is regularly evoked by sportscasters, political pundits and anyone else trying to encapsulate a remarkable story. A current book on the history of the VW Beetle--which looks like a great book, by the way--is entitled Thinking Small: The Long, Strange Trip Of The Volkswagen Beetle (Andrea Hiott, Ballantine Books, 2012). Publishers choose their titles carefully, with marketing considerations foremost in their mind, and the inclusion of Hunter's most famous lyric in the subtitle clearly marks the phrase as a familiar phrase in English, not just to a few Deadheads.

Hunter signed up as the Grateful Dead's house lyricist in September, 1967. He collaborated with most of the members at one time or another, but most famously and most often with Jerry Garcia. Yet in the last two decades, the virtues of Hunter's literate yet singable lyrics have been an asset to a wide variety of recording projects. Since 1990, Hunter has had lengthy, multi-album collaborations with Bob Dylan, David Nelson and Jim Lauderdale. During the same two decades, Hunter has also found the time to write songs with Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart, Zero (the band), Warren Haynes, Malcolm Welbourne (Papa Mali) and others as well. Given Hunter's ability to work with other musicians, and his prolific nature, one of the things I began to ask myself was "why did it take so long?" Why weren't musicians calling up Hunter for some lyrical infusions, back in the day when his friends were headlining auditoriums full of young people, not bars full of old people (even if they were amongst those young people in the first place)?

It's impossible to know why potential collaborators didn't call Hunter back in the day, but a few salient points come to my mind.
  • Back in the day, 'Star' rock bands on big labels released fewer albums, so they needed fewer songs. Hypothetically, bigger money was involved if an album was a hit, and musicians may not have been as inclined to share and potentially lucrative songwriting credits from a (hoped-for) hit album
  • There may have been a notion that Hunter was an effective member of the Grateful Dead, and asking him to help write a song was poaching, in some way. It may have been that Hunter would have been more than willing to co-write songs way back when, but received no inquiries.
  • The stone-age technology of the 60s and 70s would have meant that co-writing would have required that musicians actually spend a fair amount of time with Hunter, time that may not have been easily available for busy, touring rock musicians. We take word processing, emails and digital sound files for granted, but consider the difficulty of trying to collaborate without even being able to copy your lyrics or quickly pass on a recording--however basic--of new chord changes.
I looked into the history of Robert Hunter's collaborations, and it seems that Hunter's earliest regular, non-Dead songwriting partner was David Freiberg. Freiberg had been in Quicksilver Messenger Service from 1965 until 1972, after which he joined the Jefferson Airplane and then the Jefferson Starship until 1981. Hunter wrote the odd song with different musicians in the 70s, but Freiberg seems to be the only non-Dead member with whom Hunter worked with repeatedly. This post will consider what can be discerned about their collaborations, with an eye to seeing how Freiberg and Hunter's professional relationship prefigured the wider series of collaborations that would come in future decades.

The cover to the March, 1969 Quicksilver Messenger Service Capitol album Happy Trails
David Freiberg's Career 1962-1972
In the early 1960s, David Freiberg was a folk singer, mostly performing in the duo David And Michala (I think Michala was his wife, but I'm not certain). I know that at some point around 1964, Freiberg shared a house in Venice Beach with Paul Kantner and David Crosby. David And Michala played on the same folk circuit as Jerry Garcia, Jorma Kaukonen, Janis Joplin and other scuffling bohemian musicians. Given how few in number the pot-smoking bohemian crowd really were, I suspect that Hunter and Freiberg had met up in the early 60s, but I'm not aware that they were particularly close.

In 1965, Freiberg was asked to help form a group to back folksinger Dino Valenti. Valenti got busted, and the band was put on hold. Freiberg got busted, too (set up for a nickel bag pot bust by a snitch), and he spent 60 days in jail.  Freiberg got out to find that the band was still waiting for Valenti, and rehearsing at a tiny club called The Matrix. After many strange permutations, the band evolved into Quicksilver Messenger Service. With Valenti's legal problems making him only occasionally available, Quicksilver became underground legends and Fillmore headliners without him. By the end of 1968, Quicksilver were as big as the Grateful Dead, nationally famous and a tremendous live act. Freiberg played bass and shared lead vocals with guitarist Gary Duncan. John Cipollina shared front-line guitar duties with Duncan, and Greg Elmore anchored the band on drums.

Right before Quicksilver's epic album Happy Trails was released in March, 1969, Valenti returned to action and took away Gary Duncan. After a strange year in limbo, when the band released Shady Grove with Nicky Hopkins as a member of the band, both Valenti and Duncan returned by 1970. Quicksilver, now dominated by Valenti--which, ironically was the original plan--had some success, particularly with the song "Fresh Air." However, the San Francisco era was kind of over, and Quicksilver had crested the wave by 1971, even though they were still a popular touring act. Later in 1971, Freiberg got busted for weed, again, and was briefly returned to jail. When he came out, Quicksilver had replaced him as bassist, since they had dates to fulfill. The talented Freiberg played organ in the band for a few months, but he realized his time in the band had passed, and left Quicksilver. With nothing much to do, Freiberg filled in on bass for the Ace Of Cups at the end of 1971.

The cover of Mickey Hart's 1972 Warner Brothers album Rolling Thunder
Mickey Hart's Barn Studio, Novato
In the 1971 period, with Freiberg stepping away from Quicksilver, he seems to have been taking a break from the touring musician's life, laying low in Marin. Based on what little I can piece together, I think David Freiberg was one of several musicians who liked to hang out at Mickey Hart's ranch. Since Hart's ranch had a studio in the barn, if the guys felt like playing, they could do that, and even preserve it on tape. Some compilation-type tapes endure, possibly versions of Hart's unreleased follow up to Rolling Thunder (rejected by Warner Brothers), and versions of the album The Fish by Barry Melton (re-recorded in Wales).

Many of the musicians who had played on Rolling Thunder were between bands at the time, or not touring much. Gregg Errico had left Sly And The Family Stone, for example, Freiberg had left Quicksilver, and the Airplane never had the urge to tour as relentlessly as the Dead. All these musicians were regulars at Hart's studio during the 1971-74 period, and apparently called themselves the "Area Code 415" band, a reference to the Nashville session man group Area Code 615 (who did the FM classic "Watching TV With The Radio On"). Some Hunter collaborations start to turn up during this period, including the first Hunter/Freiberg song, and a few songs with Mickey Hart as well. This leads me to the conclusion that songwriting collaborations in the 70s required proximity, and I think Hart's ranch was the keystone, the glue that kept a few Marin musicians together on a semi-regular basis.

Jefferson Airplane's 1972 album on RCA/Grunt, 30 Seconds Over Winterland. This was the only Airplane album to feature David Freiberg. It was recorded on the band's final tour in 1972
David Freiberg and The Jefferson Airplane, 1972
By 1972, the Jefferson Airplane usually just found excuses not to tour. By the middle of the year, however, for various reasons they were required to get out on the road to support their album Bark. Bark, among other things, was the Airplane's first album for their own label, Grunt Records, which was financed by RCA. Nonetheless, the Airplane were still very popular, and since they hadn't toured much there was a lot of pent-up interest in seeing them. Unfortunately, Marty Balin had left the band in 1971, and many classic Airplane songs did not work without three-part harmonies. Thus, for their final tour in 1972, Paul Kantner invited his old roommate to join the band, so David Freiberg sang Marty Balin's harmony parts as a member of the Airplane for one tour. Frieberg appeared on the live album from the tour, 30 Seconds Over Winterland.

Since Freiberg was an old friend, talented and a rock star in his own right, he seems to have been made a full-fledged member of the Jefferson Airplane. Of course, by 1973, Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen spent all their time speed skating in Scandinavia and touring with Hot Tuna, so the chances of the Airplane actually playing live were pretty small. The Airplane had negotiated the Grunt contract with RCA so that the record company had to pay for unlimited time in Wally Heider's Studio. Now, it's true that the Airplane had those costs deducted from their royalties, so it may not have been a good move for them, but it meant that they could record as much as they wanted to at Wally Heider's and RCA would pay the bills. The famed PERRO Sessions had largely been funded by RCA, and David Freiberg was a regular participant in them. In fact, I suspect that was yet another reason that he could work well with the volatile Airplane crowd.

The odd confluence of hanging out and laying down tracks at Mickey Hart's Barn, for no particular reason, and working at Wally Heider's trying to make hit albums for RCA seems to have rather unexpectedly encouraged the pattern of collaboration between Freiberg and Hunter. Without both of these events, while I'm sure the two would have been friends, they would probably not have made the effort to have a significant working partnership.

The cover of the 1975 'reunion' album on Capitol by Quicksilver Messenger Service, Solid Silver. The album included a recording of the Freiberg/Hunter song "I Heard You Singing," which had been written and recorded for a Mickey Hart project some years earlier
"I Heard You Singing" (Freiberg/Hunter)
Fire On The Mountain-Mickey Hart (unreleased, 1973)
Tales Of The Great Rum Runners-Robert Hunter (Round, 1974)
Solid Silver-Quicksilver Messenger Service (Capitol, 1975)
The earliest collaboration between Robert Hunter and David Freiberg seems to be the song "I Heard You Singing." It's impossible to date exactly, but it does turn up on various tapes that purport to be Hart's proposed follow-up to Rolling Thunder. That seems to point to a late 1972/early 1973 composition. I believe Frieberg sings the song on the Hart recording. Most people, myself included, only became aware of the song when it was included on Hunter's debut album, Tales Of The Great Rum Runners. That album was released in June, 1974, but based on the circulating Hart demos, we know that "I Heard You Singing" dates from much earlier.

Freiberg also recorded a version of the song, on the Quicksilver 'reunion' album Solid Silver, released late in 1975. Although Quicksilver had put out weaker and weaker albums, Duncan and Valenti were still leading a version of the band, and Capitol got Cippolina and Freiberg to rejoin them in the studio, and since Greg Elmore had never left, it was a sort of reunion. Even Nicky Hopkins was there, just to leave no turn unstoned. The magic was gone, however, and while there's nothing wrong with the album, there's nothing notable about it either. I think Freiberg wanted to contribute a good song, but didn't want to use up something he might have been planning for the Jefferson Starship. Recording a three year old song he co-wrote with Hunter seemed to have been a good solution. It's an important point, that I emphasize below, that by the mid-70s it was common if not mandatory for most or all members of a band to get some sort of songwriting credit on each album.  

The cover to the 1973 RCA/Grunt album Baron Von Tollbooth vs The Chrome Nun, credited to Paul Kantner, Grace Slick and David Freiberg
"Harp Tree Lament" (Freiberg/Hunter)
Baron Von Tollbooth vs The Chrome Nun-Paul Kantner, Grace Slick and David Freiberg (RCA/Grunt, 1973)
"Harp Tree Lament" is a largely forgotten Hunter song. I know I have heard it, but I can't for the life of me remember how it goes. Nonetheless, I think it is the critical collaboration in this narrative. An unexpected confluence of events seems to have moved Hunter and Freiberg from making music as friends to an occasional but ongoing professional partnership.

By 1973, the Jefferson Airplane were major rock stars, but they had all but given up on touring. Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen had little interest in the Airplane, preferring to tour with Hot Tuna. More importantly, Grace Slick had zero desire to perform, much less tour. The only realistic chance for the band to make money was to record, easily facilitated by the band's contract with RCA. Of course, all the money they spent at Wally Heider's all but assured that the band members would get no cash in return, but the band hadn't fully grasped that yet. Since the Airplane could neither tour nor record without Jack and Jorma, Kantner and Slick worked on duo albums, also covered under the Grunt Records contract with RCA. They had already recorded two fine and modestly successful duo albums, Blows Against The Empire and Sunfighter.

Throughout late 1972 and early 1973, Kantner and Slick worked on a studio album. With Jack and Jorma only occasionally around, the album became a 'duo' record rather than an Airplane album. Numerous other local musicians, most prominently Jerry Garcia, also worked on the sessions (many of them engineered by Betty Cantor). However, Kantner and particularly Grace Slick found it difficult to find enough inspiration to complete the album. The timely arrival of old friend David Freiberg as a member of the Airplane was so productive that Grace and Paul ended up crediting their Baron Von Tollbooth vs The Chrome Nun album to Kantner, Slick and Freiberg. The album was released in May, 1973. The comical title was a reference to the apparently constant war of wills between Kantner and Slick, one of many reasons why working with the Airplane was reputed to be extraordinarily difficult.

From what I can discern, I think Kantner and Slick simply ran out of songs. Freiberg had written a song or two with Quicksilver, but he showed no lyrical flair. The solution must have been plain enough: Freiberg could write music, and he was a fine singer, so if all he needed was lyrics, he had Hunter's phone number. My own assumption is that Hunter and Freiberg had worked together on "I Heard You Singing" at Hart's barn when both of them had nothing to do, and discovered that they could work together. I have to assume that when Freiberg got in touch with Hunter about writing a song for the Tollbooth album, it was based on the idea that they had already seen they could work productively.

To consider how some of the barriers that stood in the way of collaboration in the 1970s didn't apply here, let's review them:
  • Star bands didn't want to give up songwriting credits: when Kantner, Slick, Marty Balin and Jorma were all writing songs for Airplane albums, they didn't need outside writers. But Paul and Grace seem to have run out of songs. They needed to deliver an album to RCA, and couldn't wait for inspiration to strike.
  • Asking Hunter to help write a song was poaching, in some way: the social relationships between bands (or anyone) is very hard to evaluate looking backwards. However, in 1973, the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead were peers, and Kantner, Slick and Freiberg were old friends and fellow travelers of the Dead. If there might have been social barriers to other artists working with Hunter, they most likely might not have applied to members of the Jefferson Airplane.
  • The stone-age technology of the 60s and 70s would have meant that co-writing would have required that musicians actually spend a fair amount of time with Hunter, time that may not have been easily available for busy, touring rock musicians.This may be a far more important point in retrospect. The Grateful Dead toured relentlessly, of course, but Hunter rarely went on the road. By 1973, the Jefferson Airplane weren't touring either. Since both Hunter and Freiberg lived in Marin County, it would not have been difficult to get together and write a song. I am convinced that Kantner and Slick needed to deliver an album, needed an extra song, and Freiberg and Hunter got together and wrote one.
The cover to Manhole, by Grace Slick, a 1974 album on RCA/Grunt
"It's Only Music" (Freiberg/Hunter)
Manhole-Grace Slick (RCA/Grunt, 1974)
Baron Von Tollbooth was not at all a successful album, by Airplane standards. I think Kantner and Slick were under a lot of pressure to release more 'product,' so a Grace Slick solo album was released in early 1974. Not only did rock critics and the public notice that Manhole was just the same Airplane crowd, it was widely observed that Grace didn't even appear on one song on her own solo album. That song was "It's Only Music," once again a Hunter/Freiberg composition. And once again, I feel certain that they were scratching for songs, and Freiberg called up Hunter and they put something together. Freiberg sings the song, quite nicely, I think, but it's plain from the album that Manhole is just a bunch of tracks, not a 'solo album' of any sort.

The cover to Dragonfly, by Jefferson Starship, released on RCA/Grunt in 1974
"Come To Life" (Freiberg/Stephen Schuster/Hunter)
Dragonfly-Jefferson Starship (RCA/Grunt, 1974)
With Jack and Jorma completely uninterested in touring as members of the Jefferson Airplane, and suffering from serious cash flow problems, Paul Kantner righted the ship in early 1974. An early tour as Jefferson Starship, with Craig Chaquico and Peter Kaukonen on guitars, and Freiberg on bass, showed that the band was still a big concert attraction. With one more personnel change (Pete Sears for Pete Kaukonen), Jefferson Starship recorded their official debut, Dragonfly. It was released in late 1974, and it was a huge success.

The Jefferson Airplane had made boatloads of money, but surprisingly little of it had gotten to the Airplane. They were in litigation with their manager from 1966 until 1985, and many of the royalties from their great 60s hits were still tied up during the 70s. The band had also made the usual rock star mistakes, not least their contract with RCA which insured that the company would recoup recording costs before paying the band. Given the amount of time the Airplane had spent at Wally Heider's, this had to insure that even best selling albums took a long time to generate any cash.

Jefferson Starship changed all that. Not only did the group modulate the Airplane's edgy power into FM-friendly anthems, the band was run on a sound financial basis. The group toured profitably and made sure that everyone had checks to cash from their endeavors. The Starship were lucky enough to get to apply the hard economic lessons of 60s rock to a successful 70s rock band and they all made good money. One of the conscious practices of the Starship was to insure that band members had at least one songwriting credit on each album. When an album hit it big, everyone got paid. Freiberg and Hunter had a song on Dragonfly, written with Steve Schuster, later the saxophonist for the Keith And Donna band. Dragonfly had some songs that got great FM airplay, like "Ride The Tiger" and "Caroline," and the album was a major hit.

The cover to Red Octopus, released on RCA/Grunt in 1975
"Tumblin'" (Marty Balin/Freiberg/Hunter)
Red Octopus-Jefferson Starship (RCA/Grunt, 1975)
The success of Dragonfly was dwarfed by the massive success of Red Octopus, the next Jefferson Starship album. Marty Balin had written and sang the song "Caroline" on Dragonfly, and by Red Octopus, he was back on board full-time. Balin's song "Miracles" outsold every previous Airplane recording, even if it seems trivial now, and the album became huge. Other songs like "Play On Love" were also hits, and the album just didn't stop sellling. Hunter and Freiberg had co-written a song with Marty Balin, so they definitely got their piece of the action. Dragonfly also sold even more records on the basis of "Miracles," so everyone made even more money.

Red Octopus was the gold strike that every band hopes for. Not only was it a huge hit, the band had set up its finances and management in such a way that it was all profitable, and the members were experienced enough not to blow their money this time. I have to assume that Hunter made as much money from "Tumblin'" as he did from any Grateful Dead song. The rewards that came Hunter's way had come from hanging out in Mickey's barn with other out-of-work musicians. I am convinced that Freiberg only called Hunter up to write songs for Airplane projects because Kantner and Slick owed RCA albums and couldn't write songs fast enough. To paraphrase David Nelson, Hunter has always had the ability to serve up songs like hamburgers, and David Freiberg seems to have been the first to realize that new Hunter songs were just a phone call away.

"Nighthawks" (Freiberg/Hunter)
unreleased, 1975
I believe there was one more song by David Freiberg and Robert Hunter, that has been largely lost to history. Before Red Octopus was released, Joel Selvin reported in the San Francisco Chronicle that the name of the next Jefferson Starship would be Nighthawks. He also reported that the title track had been written by Freiberg and Hunter, and implied that the song was already being performed by Jefferson Starship at the time. Of course, tracking Jefferson Starship live shows isn't like the Dead or Bob Dylan, and I have no way of knowing if the song was actually played in concert.

I have a general recollection that the song "Miracles" was a late arrival to the recording sessions, and bumped "Nighthawks." I have been able to find no trace of the song since. After Red Octopus, while the Starship dutifully split songwriting credits, there seemed to be a profusion of writers, so Freiberg didn't call on Hunter again. Although there were numerous personal travails for the members of the Jefferson Starship, the band sold tons of albums in the 1970s, and the band members all largely stopped touring after they left the group, except when they felt like having some fun. David Freiberg left the Starship after 1981, after co-writing another huge hit ("Jane"), and hardly worked again.

David Freiberg was a successful rock musician in the 1960s, but he had little to show for it except  fuzzy memories and some pot busts. He got a second roll of the dice in the 1970s, and he called it right that time. Freiberg, very quietly, seems to have been a guy who stayed ahead of the trend, and he seems to have been the first guy to notice that Jerry Garcia wasn't taking up all of Robert Hunter's time with songwriting. Now of course, it appears--I'm happy to say--that artists from all over get Hunter to contribute to their songs, but David Freiberg was the first. Here's to hoping that there's a recording of Jefferson Starship playing "Nighthawks," appropriately mixed by Jefferson Starship soundman Owsley Stanley, waiting to draw the circle to a close.

Update: 
"Book Of Daniel" (Freiberg/Hunter)
Jack O' Roses-Robert Hunter (Dark Star Records [UK], 1980)
Astute and scholarly reader Jeff points out that I missed a song. On the 1980 Hunter album Jack O'Roses, released and recorded in the UK in 1980, Hunter recorded the song "Book Of Daniel." The song was credited to Hunter and Freiberg. Jeff also points out a February 5, 1980 live performance by Hunter from Kutztown State College (PA) where he introduces the song by saying "here's a song I wrote a few years ago with my friend David Freiberg of Jefferson Starship." While not dating "Book Of Daniel" too precisely, it still puts it squarely in the era of the other songs listed here.

13 comments:

  1. "Nighthawk" (or "Night Hawk") is on several live Jefferson Starship tapes from 1976, including a soundboard of the July 14 show in Hartford.

    David Freiberg stayed with Jefferson Starship until 1984. I was at the last show Paul Kantner played with them, June 23, 1984 (at Marriott's Great America with Billy Satellite opening). David left a bit after that. I remember that Paul Sears would play bass most of the show, but David would play bass on the song "Stranger," wearing a headset-type microphone.

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  2. Corry, this is nothing short of stunning. Let me try to address a few pieces.

    Your thesis is that "songwriting collaborations in the 70s required proximity ... Hart's ranch was the keystone, the glue that kept a few Marin musicians together on a semi-regular basis."

    I think you're really onto something that I haven't thought much of, and need to stew. You set up the parallel that flashed into my mind, which was PERRO. You are adding the Hart Barn element, and I think that's something we haven't gotten around sufficiently to elaborating and understanding.

    But I think the basic thesis has a really nice technological determinism to it that is appropriate to this case. Swapping tapes through the mail is something a lot of us did, but it's harder to imagine doing so for songwriting purposes over any extended period of time and/or with any success. I am sure there are lots of exceptions (i.e., successful, long-term songwriting collaborations), but it doesn't seem that easy to do. Initial location will drive a lot.

    All that said, as a thesis statement, it's incomplete. Opportunity (i.e., local availability) interacts with Incentive (i.e., bills and record contracts). Hate to reduce it to supply and demand, but there you have it. So I'd expand your thesis to suggest that it is the interaction of local availability and song demand from the Jeffersons that drove Freiberg-Hunter. I guess I am adding a good dose of economic determinism to leaven your techological determinism. Or something.

    I agree with your read on Freiburg's smarts and prescience. People seem only now to be realizing that a Great American Songwriter really well and truly walks among them. Robert Hunter is one of the great poetic geniuses.

    The ecologies of all of these folks are fascinating and, when people made it work, quite glorious (if baroque) works of human inspiration themselves. The Dream went lots of places, and here's one where we can have our cake and eat it too. Kudos to the Airplane folks, Hunter, Freiburg, and so many of those people to have come out alive on the other side. And making it work, in its way. Learning lessons, as you say Kantner et al had. It's a good thing.

    Smaller stuff: what was the Nicky connection to Solid Silver?

    As always, your scholarship on these songs is unmatched and important. Thanks for sharing it.

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  3. To rephrase slightly, Freiberg was the arbitrageur, who smartly (and to the benefit of all) put Hunter's songs and Jefferson song needs together.

    I don't mean that as a slight - I am a huge fan of Freiberg as a musician --he has always been a brilliant, powerful bassist (inter alia) and a strong singer ... he projects a ton of intelligence. He certainly added value to everything he touched by his smarts and creativity and skill. I am saying, as an additional feather in his cap, that he connected people in ways that had mutual benefits. Every social group (i.e., collection of three or more people) needs bridges. What's cooler than all that that?

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  4. By the way, Happy Trails was The One for me. Vinyl from Rasputin's in Concord. I was never the same.

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  5. About proximity:
    One interesting thing about the list here of people Hunter cowrote songs with, was that all of them had to come into the GD orbit before the collaboration happened. (In the '70s, Hunter also collaborated with Country Joe & Barry Melton, two other likely culprits.)
    Indeed, Hunter seems to specialize in GD-offshoot bands now, where his participation is no surprise. (Even Dylan first started doing Hunter songs in, you guessed it, 1987 when he hung out with the Dead.)
    So what strikes me is not Hunter's ability to work with a wide range of other musicians, but the limited pool of musicians he's worked with as a 'lyricist-for-hire.' Most of these were guys who, if they were hard up for a song, would of COURSE call up Hunter first, as they were already in his circle. Proximity in action.
    How many songwriters has Hunter worked with who've been unrelated to the Dead family tree?

    About motive:
    You list a few reasons why other songwriters might not have wanted to call up Hunter for help. But you left out what, to my mind, is perhaps the most important one: most rock songs, since the late '60s, are written either individually or by a regular team (such as a band, or a pair of 'professional' songwriters). While people within a band often work together to form a song, it is unusual for a writer to seek an outside writer's collaboration. It would be like, say, one blog-writer asking another to co-write a post! It happens (even Dylan's done it now & then), but is not the general rule. The songwriters within the Airplane & Starship worked with each other frequently on songs, but brought in outside cowriters rather infrequently.
    David Freiberg is known for a few things, but I think being a songwriter is not among them. There are hardly any songs he wrote himself, in the Quicksilver & Starship repertoire. Almost everything he did was a collaboration with others.
    So it makes sense that he (rather than, say, Kantner or Slick) was the one whose songs were often co-written with Hunter.

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  6. This was an interesting post, since it started out as a brief list of collaborations between David Freiberg and Robert Hunter, and took on a life of its own. I had been thinking about why Robert Hunter and David Nelson might not have written many songs together after Dave Torbert left the Riders, since NRPS certainly needed them. Lack of proximity seemed to be the main cause, since NRPS were always on tour.

    Then I took to thinking who Hunter had collaborated with in the 70s, and Freiberg popped out. I know about some of the other collaborations. The writing of "Jesse James," with Barry Melton, took place in London for some reason, about 1972. Hunter and Melton apparently had a few pints and wrote the song one night (Joe McDonald added a few lyrics later). However, that wasn't repeated, nor intended to be.

    I agree that Hunter tended to write with people within the Dead's social network (their "Linked In" group, had such a thing existed), but it was still surprising to me how few collaborations there were until later, even within the Marin County universe.

    As to JGMF's proposition that I am reducing songwriting to "supply and demand"--why are you apologizing? I could translate this into French (if I knew French) and publish it in Annales. The economic drivers of artistic motives are what distinguishes the decision making.

    I have become increasingly conscious of the importance of Mickey Hart's Barn studio in the scheme of things. However, I simply never noticed until you pointed it out that the Barn crowd and the PEROO crowd had a lot of crossover, and often at the same time. So it's possible to see the Barn as the country retreat for PERRO--hmm, sounds like a post...

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  7. Confirmation of the Nighthawks/Spitfire story from a 1978 interview with Robert Hunter:

    "I guess I blew it. I wrote one for what turned out to be the Spitfire album. I wrote a tune called Nighthawk. And it was going to be the title piece for the album, and they had the cover drawn and what-not. And I was just waiting for it to come out. And I ran down to my record store. There it was. And the song wasn't on it. Much less was it not the title thing.

    "I just didn't put the attention with [the Starship] that I did with the Dead. I didn't hang out, or try to be part of the band very much. And the guys were writing a bit - I think it was replaced by something that the drummer wrote. And the people who are working in the band, functioning as the band, should have a mission and the tunes on it. So I never felt in the least bitter about not doing that. And subsequently I haven't worked with them. But not that I wouldn't - in a flash if they asked me, but they're off on another trip now. But I was with them rather between the Airplane and Starship. It was a nice time, and I enjoyed being part of them while they were underdogs. It was fun. They're not underdogs any more, but they were for a while, and it is fun working with underdogs."

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    1. Alex, thanks so much for this. It puts the story in context. My long-ago memory was only partially correct. Nighthawks was intended as a title track, but to the album that became Spitfire, not Red Octopus.

      It's an interesting detail, too, to hear Hunter say that he knew nothing until he went down to the record store. The world was indeed different before email. Was the Hunter interview from BAM in early '78, or a different one? There weren't that many Hunter interviews, and indeed I think he spoke more to English fanzines than American journalists.

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    2. The "thing that the drummer wrote" was a song called "Big City." It was from a legendary obscure but apparently great album called LA Getaway, by guitarist Joel Scott Hill, bassist Chris Etheridge and then Starship drummer Johnny Barbata. The album was released by Atco in 1971. The songs were supposedly good, but it would have been added to Spitfire to insure that Barbata got a writing credit. One undeniable fact about Jefferson Starship was that they did not repeat the mistakes of the Airplane, and thus they insured that everyone had a writing credit on each hit album. In this case it meant recording a 5-year old song co-written by the drummer. However, no members of Jefferson Starship have had serious money worries since, as far as I know, so it was a good strategy in that respect.

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    3. It was an interview by Denis McNamara for 92.7 WLIR-FM Garden City, New York's "Sunday at 9:00" radio program. The recording I found (on lossless legs) is dated 1978-03-xx and was done in Hunter's room in an unknown hotel in Roslyn NY.

      I hadn't seen/heard the interview until recently. It's got lot's of other interesting stuff (bits of original lyrics for Sugar Magnolia and Scarlet Begonias for example)

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  8. Robert Hunter talked about his collaborations with Freiberg in his interview with the UK magazine Dark Star (Aug & Dec 1980).

    DS: "'Tumblin' - I suspect you didn't have a very big hand in that. Did you just come in to smooth off the edges?"
    Hunter: "That was the tune I wrote with David Freiberg and then Marty Balin added to it - 'This time our love will grow, this time you'll never know.' Those are Marty's lines."
    DS: "It sounds much more Marty than Robert Hunter. Was it specifically written for him to sing?"
    Hunter: "Yes."
    DS: "Well, that explains the lyrics."
    Hunter: "Oh yeah, I can write for people, 'cause Garcia is such a good one to write for."
    DS: "'I Heard You Singing' and 'It's Only Music' were essentially the same song, weren't they? And the first time Freiberg gave you the changes it wasn't the way he wanted it?"
    Hunter: "The first set of lyrics I wrote to Freiberg's changes were 'I Heard You Singing' and he didn't quite go for it, he wanted something a little different; so I wrote 'It's Only Music,' which he recorded. But I liked the 'I Heard You Singing' lyrics, so I did those and then he subsequently decided he liked them better and recorded it with Quicksilver."
    DS: "And he did 'It's Only Music' with Grace Slick on Manhole. And what about 'Nighthawk'?"
    Hunter: "That was an attempt to write an entirely trivial song."
    DS: "David Freiberg said, 'It was Hunter's first fuck-song, I think. That's a fuck-song. I don't know whether he's written another one since.' (laughs) What have you got to say about that?"
    Hunter: "I think somebody just asked me once in an interview what it was about, and just off the top of my head I said 'Oh, it's a fuck song.' And then I think that they read that and were offended by it and possibly didn't put it out for that reason. I don't think it was." (laughing)
    DS: "I suspect there was some other reason why they didn't put it out. Were you rather upset that they didn't?"
    Hunter: "Not at all. It's like it's just a pea in a pod. I'm always involved in so many projects, so much songwriting, that there's 15-20-25% of it doesn't come off... I'm so far on in the middle of the next project by the time you hear anything about something else - if it disappears, you know, it just disappears. I'm not in the least upset."
    DS: "I think several members of the Starship are. They would rather have seen that on the album than 'Big City,' which I understand was the song that replaced it."
    Hunter: "I know nothing about that. I didn't spend any time hanging out with them while they were recording, so I don't know what the feelings on any of that were." ...

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  9. (continued)

    [DS mentions a song 'Jane' that Hunter's old Roadhog colleague Jim McPherson wrote with the Starship.]
    Hunter: "He's a very good lyricist and an excellent songwriter. I didn't hear the Starship's last album. I was, of course, involved in the others, having written on Dragonfly and Red Octopus. It's the only time I've had anything on a #1 album! (laughter) Shame it had to be 'Tumblin'." (laughter)
    DS: "It must be one of the lyrics you're least proud of!"
    Hunter: "Indeed! I collaborated on that from London to Novato with Dave Freiberg over the phone. I went off with his changes, but we did the final leading up to it on long-distance, and then Marty came into it. I think he did a good number on it, but what he did was make it a Marty Balin tune. He can get away with that stuff because boy, can that man croon! I'd love to be able to sing like that! I would say that Marty was a fairly early influence on me with the stuff that he had done on Surrealistic Pillow..." (etc, talks more about Marty)

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  10. Harp Tree Lament is extremely beautiful and profound

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