Friday, February 14, 2014

Jerry Garcia Recording Studio History: November 1965-January 1967: Early Days (Studiography I)

The Warlocks first recording, a single of "Don't Ease Me In"/"Stealin'" on Scorpio Records, recorded at Buena Vista Studios in June 1966
Jerry Garcia is rightly remembered as one of the great live performers in American musical history. Yet Garcia spent the first 20 years or so of his career working hard in the studio, trying both to record his music successfully in a structured setting and to sculpt his live performance work into a form that made it commercially accessible without losing its depth. Garcia himself was perpetually unhappy with the studio and live albums of the Grateful Dead, not to mention his other recordings, and yet those very same recordings were responsible for the initial musical interest of a huge number of future Deadheads.

There are many ways to consider Jerry Garcia's professional experiences in recording studios. I am going to approach Garcia's evolution as a musician from the point of view of the actual studios themselves. In many ways, Garcia's career was defined by the limitations and opportunities provided by the specific studios he worked in. One little-remarked detail of Garcia's career was that the music industry itself came to San Francisco in the 1960s. Up until 1965, as far as music was concerned, San Francisco was no different than any other city save for Los Angeles and New York. There were only a few studios in San Francisco, far below the standard of the two standards of the music capitals, used for commercial jingles and local singles in the rock, soul and country markets, and providing a far lower quality than the high end studios the music industry preferred.

Yet San Francisco was the center of the rock music universe in the late '60s, and rock music sold records on a scale that the music industry could hardly imagine, so top-of-the-line studios began to open in the Bay Area by the end of the decade. Thus Jerry Garcia could move from being a guy stuck in a local backwater to a musician who had access recording opportunities equal to what was available in Los Angeles, New York or London.

Unpacking Garcia's studio career will take numerous posts, so I am starting with the beginning of the Grateful Dead's career. In late 1965, when the Grateful Dead evolved from The Warlocks, there were only four professional studios in San Francisco. The Dead ultimately worked at least three of them, and since the fourth one had Dan Healy as its regular engineer, its safe to say that they would have known if it had anything to offer them. As a result, any plans to make a real record that captured the Grateful Dead had to take place out of town.

Bobby Freeman had a hit single in 1958 with "Do You Wanna Dance" on Josie Records. Then 16-year old Jerry Garcia did not play on it, no matter what he might have said.
Prelude: No, Jerry Garcia Did Not Play On "Do You Wanna Dance" in 1958
For reasons that are hard to fathom, Jerry Garcia consistently told his friends that he had played on the 1958 hit single "Do You Wanna Dance," by San Franciscan Bobby Freeman. The song was a big hit on Josie Records, an early example of the type of swinging rock and roll that would soon be popularized by songs like "The Twist." From the 1960s until at least the 80s, Garcia told his friends that he had played on the record.

"Do You Wanna Dance" was recorded in 1958, when Garcia was 15 or 16 years old. At the time, he could barely play guitar (by his own admission) and had no connection to anyone in the recording industry. Whatever Garcia's motives for claiming that he had played on the record, the claim made no sense. Grateful Dead historian Dennis McNally attempted to confirm this story with Garcia, but Garcia was uncharacteristically unforthcoming. McNally finds it all but impossible that Garcia played on the record, and I have to agree, so it plays no part in this story.

Leo De Gar Kulka, owner and engineer of Golden State Recorders, at the mixing board. Golden State was at 665 Harrison.
Golden State Recorders, 665 Harrison Street, San Francisco
The Grateful Dead's first real recording station was at  Leo De Gar Kulka's Golden State Recorders, which had opened in 1964. At the time, the studio was in a somewhat gritty area, located at 665 Harrison Street between 2nd and 3rd. That's hardly the case today, considering the address is in walking distance of the SF Giants ballpark. Kulka had been a Los Angeles studio  veteran, and Golden State handled a wide variety of clients, but it had a good reputation as a place with a funky sound. Golden State had a four-track recorder, when its competitors Coast, Commercial and Columbus all still only had three-tracks.

Autumn Records, run by KYA-am djs Tom Donahue and Bobby Mitchell, had a hip reputation for finding new acts, like the Beau Brummels, The Vejtables and The Mojo Men. They recorded demos for various other hip acts, including Grace Slick and The Great Society and the Warlocks. When the Warlocks recorded their six-song demo at Golden State, on November 3, 1965, they used the name "The Emergency Crew" since they were concerned that other bands had rights to the name Warlocks. In any case, Mitchell and Donahue passed on the fledgling Warlocks, and the tracks remained officially unreleased for thirty years.

The intriguing question about Golden State was whether Garcia recorded there outside of the confines of the Grateful Dead. One of Autumn's hit acts was Bobby Freeman, who had scored a big hit in 1958 with his Josie Records single "Do You Want To Dance," covered many times by many other groups. Autumn had signed Freeman, and in 1964--pop music years are like dog years, so that would be 42 years later--they had another hit with "C'mon And Swim."

Bobby Freeman got back in the charts in 1964 with "C'mon And Swim." Produced by 20 year old Sylvester (Sly Stone) Stewart, it was the second release on Tom Donahue's Autumn Records, and reached #5 in July 1964
Autumn's producer was a 20 year old KSOL-dj named Sylvester Stewart, later better known as Sly Stone. Freeman was a great performer, and was typically the star musical attraction at North Beach's infamous Condor Club, along with the topless Carol Doda. Freeman never really had another hit, but he was a popular San Francisco performer throughout the 60s. I happen to know that one regular attendee at Freeman shows was one Dick Latvala. Dick enjoyed dancing at Bobby Freeman shows, at least until he found another band he liked dancing to. I am quite enamored of the idea that Garcia might have played on some Autumn sessions for Sly Stone in late 1965, but there's no evidence of it, and Dennis McNally thinks it was extremely unlikely.  [For more about Golden State Recorders, see here]

Buena Vista Studios was on the top floor of this 1897 mansion, just above the Haight Ashbury district
Buena Vista Studios, 737 Buena Vista West, San Francisco
The Grateful Dead's next recording adventure took place in a mansion in the Haight-Ashbury, where an inspired fellow traveler who'd had the foresight to marry an heiress had built his own recording studio in the top floor of his house. Gene Estribou had married an heir to the Spreckels sugar fortune, and they lived in a huge house built in 1897, just above Masonic Avenue near Haight Street, at 737 Buena Vista West [for a complete overview of the house, later owned by Graham Nash and then actor Danny Glover, see JGBP's great post].

Although it was on the 5th floor of the mansion, Estribou's studio had superior equipment for the time, with a four-track recorder, at a time when most studios were still using three-tracks. A number of San Francisco bands made demos there, as Buena Vista Studios was used as a place for famous (or infamous) producer Bobby Shad to audition acts. The Wildflower and The Final Solution both signed with Shad's label, Mainstream (Final Solution never released anything, and today they are rightfully ashamed of their name). Big Brother And The Holding Company did not sign with Shad, but some months later, stuck in Chicago, they did split with Chet Helms and signed with Shad at Mainstream, much to their future dismay.

Apparently, photographer Herb Greene introduced the Dead to Estribou, and the Dead recorded at Buena Vista studios "the day after a Saturday night Acid Test party at California Hall, on the fringe of the seedy Tenderloin district. Band and crew hauled massive amounts of heavy equipment up four flights of stairs to rehearse and record some of their first studio demos under their new name." If this vague, acid-drenched memory is correct, that would place the recording session on May 30 or so, since the Dead played a LEMAR Benefit at California Hall on Sunday, May 29, 1966.

Per Rock Scully, The Dead didn't recall the episode fondly, nor did Estribou :
Weir was very irritated about hauling the band’s gear up to the fifth floor; Lesh dismissed Estribou as a “dilettante”; and Garcia summarized the sessions: “we never got in on the mixing of it and we didn’t really like the cuts and the performances were bad and the recordings were bad and everything else was bad, so we didn’t want it out…it doesn’t sound like us.”
Estribou himself also had a hard time: “It was an effort to get out of the zone of indecision, as you can imagine. The early Dead was trying to find themselves…and get a product out, when Phil wanted to do one thing and Jerry wanted to do another… So it was frustrating for everybody, but we had to get something finished rather than nine thousand hours of shit that was unusable.”
Thankful as we are for the several tracks that endure, which include the thinly-distributed "Don't Ease Me In"/"Stealin' single and a few outtakes, the entire episode didn't generate the music that the band was trying to make. In that respect, it must have been a blunt lesson for the Dead. However much they wanted to believe that they could make music on the top floor of mansion of a rich, willing hippie, it wasn't going to come out the way they had hoped. One way or another, the Dead were  going to have to get into a real studio, and that inevitably would mean a real record company. 

Long after Coast Recorders moved its location from 960 Bush Street, it became The Boarding House
Coast Recorders, 960 Bush Street, San Francisco
The history of the Dead's 1966 demos are rather confusing (for a great discussion, see LIA's post here). It does seem that Estribou took the Dead to another studio for some of the sessions. He says it was "Western Recording," but since that studio was in Los Angeles, Blair Jackson speculates that it was Coast Recorders. Coast Recorders was housed in a former nightclub, a large basement room at 960 Bush. It had a three-track recorder, and was mainly used for commercial and pop recordings. One of the regular engineers was Dan Healy, but he wouldn't have been used for the Estribou sessions. Healy had been the "house" engineer at a place called Commercial Recorders (at 149 Natoma St, in an old firehouse), and he used to sneak bands in there after hours--possibly including the Dead, though not likely--and he was familiar with what few studio options there were in San Francisco.

If some of the Dead demos were in fact recorded at Coast (or even at Commercial), it was another example of a professional studio that was just unsuitable for the music the Dead were trying to make. The other historical curiosity about Coast Recorders was that when the studio moved from 960 Bush (to 1340 Mission Street), the Bush Street room returned to being a nightclub. After briefly being the Troubadour North, it became The Boarding House. So from that point of view, Jerry Garcia did record an album at Coast Recorders--its just that it was Old And In The Way that recorded there, on October 8, 1973, when it was a nightclub.

[update] Apparently, after the first album was recorded in late January 1967, the Dead re-recorded "The Golden Road To Unlimited Devotion" at Coast, in order to release it as a single.

[update] Commercial Recorders, 149 Natoma Street, San Francisco
Scholarly reader Runonguinness reports that it appears that Dan Healy did surreptitiously record the Dead at Commercial Recorders, where he worked, in late 1966
I think the Dead definitely did record with Healy at Commercial Recorders in late '66. There is a Healy interview from before the Sacramento show on 1993-05-23 printed in Best Of Guitar Player Grateful Dead issue from 1993 on page 68 of which he says

“I still had my job at the radio station (KMPX), and I was still working at the recording studio (Commercial Recorders). The next thing I did (after assembling a PA for the Fillmore Dead show) was to sneak the Dead into the studio after hours and we would record all night. As soon as they would leave I’d clean the studio like nothing had happened except that there would be this blue haze from the cigarette smoke. I thought I was getting away with something, but in retrospect, Lloyd (Pratt) probably knew all along and just didn’t say anything. He was really wonderful. We made some great tapes during those sessions but we couldn’t get any radio play because we weren’t in the club. The AM Top 40 guys wouldn’t play you if they didn’t own a piece of you, and if they didn’t play you, you didn’t go anywhere. So I’d take these tapes down to KMPX and play them after three o’clock in the morning when people didn’t care what you played anyway. Eventually there were several other bands besides the Dead whose tapes I produced and who I played during these late night radio show. Pretty soon it became a happening thing to listen to tapes late at night on KMPX. Almost overnight it became this secret, cult thing to listen to late-night FM radio; this dormant thing literally exploded, and people began clamoring to buy ad time and the thing just took off."

Scully says much the same on p 60-61 of Living With The Dead but I suspect he's quoting Healy's interview. Additionally he mentions demos for Silver Threads (presumably the one on Rare Cuts), You Don't Have To Ask/Otis On A Shakedown Cruise and "many of the songs" from the first album.

Healy's entry in "Skeleton Key" also takes great chunks from this interview.
There is something slightly odd about the timeline, since dj Larry Miller did not take over the midnight shift at KMPX-fm until February, 1967, but perhaps Healy would just go in and play the tapes anyway. He would have known all the engineers. In any case, Garcia must have found Commercial just as wanting as San Francisco's other professional studios at the time.
Jerry Garcia assisted the Jefferson Airplane in November 1966, during their recording of Surrealistic Pillow, at RCA Studios in Hollywood (at 6363 Sunset at Ivar)

RCA Studios, 6363 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles
The Grateful Dead recorded their first album in less than five days starting January 30, 1967 at RCA Studios in Los Angeles. Although the studio was housed in an unassuming building at 6363 Sunset Boulevard (at Ivar), not far from the Hollywood Palladium and The Hullabaloo, RCA's facility were apparently top-of-the-line, far beyond anything available in San Francisco at the time. Yet it often goes unremarked that in early November, nearly three months before recording the first album, Jerry Garcia spent a week or two in Los Angeles with the Jefferson Airplane, helping them record Surrealistic Pillow.

A number of interesting timeline issues raise their heads. Firstly, it is known that the Dead agreed to a contract with Joe Smith of Warner Brothers on September 30, 1966, but did not sign until December 1. What was at issue? It is intriguing to consider that Garcia shared RCA's studio with the Airplane in November, and the Dead recorded there the next January. It does seem that whatever else may have been at stake with the contract--money was surely a factor--implicitly or explicitly a commitment to record at RCA seems to have been part of the bargain.

Another peculiar fact, rarely remarked upon afterwards, was that the Airplane were recording their second album, and they invited someone to help them who had seemingly only played two studio sessions, resulting in only one unsatisfactory single. Now, Jerry Garcia's ability to synthesize information quickly has been remarked upon by numerous friends and collaborators. Yet how did he know enough to help the Airplane record Surrealistic Pillow, when he himself had no such experience? Garcia played the high guitar part on "Today," very reminiscent of "Morning Dew," and acoustic guitar  on "Plastic Fantastic Lover," "My Best Friend" and "Comin' Back To Me." More importantly, he added some chords to "Somebody To Love," changing it from the drone of the Great Society's version to the exciting AM hit of the Airplane. Genius though he may have been, how did Garcia know how to project his music onto a studio recording?

Garcia's well-documented contribution to Surrealistic Pillow, confirmed by RCA studio logs (per McNally) and testimony from the Airplane members, amplified my speculation that Garcia cut some Bobby Freeman tracks with Sly Stone at Golden State. Yet it seems Garcia helped the Airplane record their seminal album with even less experience than their own, as the Airplane were on their second album. Garcia's suggested arrangements for Surrealistic Pillow seem to have come from educated guesses, rather than any pre-existing studio experience [update: Garcia's appearance on Surrealistic Pillow was just the first of many Garcia contributions to the records of others: for a great career summary, see LIA's post]
The Grateful Dead backed Jon Hendricks when he recorded the title track for a movie soundtrack, "Fire In The City," at Columbus Recorders at 906 Kearny.

Columbus Recorders, 906 Kearny St, San Francisco
The Grateful Dead still had one more studio episode prior to recording their first album in Los Angeles. Soon after signing their contract, they spent some time in the studio working with singer Jon Hendricks on the soundtrack to a documentary movie about antiwar protesters called Your Sons And Daughters. Hendricks was well-known as the leader of the groundbreaking vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks and Ross (vocalizing Charlie Parker solos), and Lesh and Garcia in particular were honored to work with him.

The band spent a few days with Hendricks at Columbus Recorders, at 906 Kearny. Columbus Recorders was a popular studio for commercial work and the like, but it too had a three-track recorder. The Dead ended up backing Hendricks on two songs, "Fire In The City" and "Your Sons And Daughters," both released as a Jon Hendricks single on Verve. However, according to McNally, although the Dead enjoyed working with Hendricks, they were uncomfortable with the overt polemical political stance of the movie and asked that their name be removed from the soundtrack.

Nonetheless, although Columbus Recorders was hardly a good room for a technologically advanced rock band, the Kearny Street studio would play an important part in Grateful Dead history. About 16 months after the December 1966 sessions with Hendricks, the band would return to Columbus Recorders with Dan Healy to mix Anthem Of The Sun.

Jerry Garcia returned to RCA Studios to record the Grateful Dead's debut album at the end of January, 1967
January 30-February 3, 1967: RCA Studios, 6363 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA
Jerry Garcia returned to RCA Studios with the Grateful Dead in the last week of January, 1967. They recorded their album in four days, and mixed it on the fifth. Legend has it that Warners offered to let them keep the money they would have spent on studio time if they finished the album quickly, and supposedly that is why they rushed through the recording.

Whatever the Grateful Dead's resistance to the mainstream record companies, however, the band had tried out the available studios in San Francisco and found them wanting. Jerry Garcia's sole known satisfying musical experience in the studio up until 1967 was his work with the Jefferson Airplane on Surrealistic Pillow. Thus I do not think it was a coincidence that their first album was recorded there. Nonetheless, it was a sign of the simplicity of the era that even for a band on a major label, an album recorded in late January was in the stores by March 20 or so. The Dead had managed to make their first album at an industry standard studio, but rock recording was about to go through a series or revolutions, and the Dead were well primed to be on the front lines.

Jerry Garcia, for his part, had found the time to work with the Airplane in the studio. This was a characteristic of Garcia's music throughout his career, as he found time to record outside of the Dead no matter what his touring schedule. When rock music was still a growing concern, even rock stars didn't have studios in their garages, so that meant Garcia had to play in more typical professional settings. For the next album, the Dead would traverse the country trying to find a suitable studio, only to return to a tiny, primitive room in San Francisco that they had already used, but that arc will have to wait for the next installment.

15 comments:

  1. I think the Dead definitely did record with Healy at Commercial Recorders in late '66. There is a Healy interview from before the Sacramento show on 1993-05-23 printed in Best Of Guitar Player Grateful Dead issue from 1993 on page 68 of which he says

    “I still had my job at the radio station (KMPX), and I was still working at the recording studio (Commercial Recorders). The next thing I did (after assembling a PA for the Fillmore Dead show) was to sneak the Dead into the studio after hours and we would record all night. As soon as they would leave I’d clean the studio like nothing had happened except that there would be this blue haze from the cigarette smoke. I thought I was getting away with something, but in retrospect, Lloyd (Pratt) probably knew all along and just didn’t say anything. He was really wonderful. We made some great tapes during those sessions but we couldn’t get any radio play because we weren’t in the club. The AM Top 40 guys wouldn’t play you if they didn’t own a piece of you, and if they didn’t play you, you didn’t go anywhere. So I’d take these tapes down to KMPX and play them after three o’clock in the morning when people didn’t care what you played anyway. Eventually there were several other bands besides the Dead whose tapes I produced and who I played during these late night radio show. Pretty soon it became a happening thing to listen to tapes late at night on KMPX. Almost overnight it became this secret, cult thing to listen to late-night FM radio; this dormant thing literally exploded, and people began clamoring to buy ad time and the thing just took off."

    Scully says much the same on p 60-61 of Living With The Dead but I suspect he's quoting Healy's interview. Additionally he mentions demos for Silver Threads (presumably the one on Rare Cuts), You Don't Have To Ask/Otis On A Shakedown Cruise and "many of the songs" from the first album.

    Healy's entry in "Skeleton Key" also takes great chunks from this interview.

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    1. runonguinness, thanks so much for finding this. It establishes that Garcia and the Dead had tried every studio in San Francisco prior to recording at RCA in Los Angeles. I added the comment to the main post.

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    2. Larry Miller at KMPX? I'm woefully ignorant about that story so don't know the time line problem but, in danger of going off topic, Healy is pretty aggressive about his unacknowledged role in the start of FM music radio.

      The quotes I previously transcribed follow with

      "Finally Tom Donahue who was still over at KYA AM, picked up on what was going on, and it was at that point that contemporary music turned from AM to FM. That was the start of what was later to be called FM underground radio. Within a year of that, the AM stations were out of business except for news and talk. Tom Donahue gets the credit for starting all this, but the seed had already been planted. He took it to a farther place because he had all the radio connections, but he's not the guy who invented it or discovered it.

      "The owner of KMPX was a guy in his forties named Lee Crosby whose parents paid him to stay away from them. A real nerd. I think they bought him the radio station just to keep him out of their hair. He was the last person to care what happened at the station. KMPX wasn't making any money. Those of us who worked there certainly weren't making any money; I must have made something like fifteen dollars a week for doing five nights a week. Most of the time the station broadcast ethnic religious programming or whatever other types of programming he could get people to pay to put on the air. The equipment was lousy and didn't work half the time. I even had to bring in my own styluses just to get some halfway decent fidelity.

      "As soon as Lee Crosby realized that we were onto something really big, he tried to take it back and throw us all out. That's when the station staff, led by Tom Donahue, nailed ourselves in for a week. We finally emerged and Donahue led the staff over to KSAN and started the whole thing up over there. A bunch of us lost our FCC licenses over that; I did eventually get mine back."

      I don't think Healy's memory is particularly consistent or reliable but that's what he said in '93.

      And thanks for another fine piece.

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    3. Though Healy's memory may be inaccurate, he does seem to be remembering the period before February '67, at least. It's before Larry Miller started his night show at KMPX; Healy remembers Tom Donahue still being at KYA, and KMPX still mostly playing "ethnic religious programming," etc. He implies that he was the late-night DJ some nights on KMPX himself; as far as I know, that station did still have fairly empty blocks of unpaid time at night in '66, though you might know more details.
      Though Healy may be mushing the events of a year into one shorter time period in his memory (leaving it unclear exactly when he recorded/played the Dead), the overall contour seems clear & believable to me.

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    4. LIA, I agree with you that Healy is probably squeezing the timeline a little bit, but it all sounds plausible. The community of FM radio engineers must have been very tiny, and sneaking over to your friend's station to play tapes at 3am must have been easy and fun. Larry Miller came to KMPX-fm on February 12, 1967 (Donahue took over the whole station in late March), but clearly there were tentative experiments beforehand.

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  2. Another way to look at the Dead's recording history is not just by the studios they recorded at, but by the engineers they worked with. Up through 1967, they were mostly recorded by "professionals" (or, in Gene Estribou's case, an aspiring amateur). Their reaction to these experiences can easily be guessed by the fact that they would only record with trusted friends, for the most part, for the next 9 years.

    It's telling that the engineer for Surrealistic Pillow was Dave Hassinger. Garcia knew that he'd been the engineer on several Rolling Stones records in '65, and that by itself was enough to impress the Dead; so they wanted him to produce their first record. Garcia must also have had a good enough experience working with him on Surrealistic Pillow. (But it would not take too many sessions in '67 before the Dead & Hassinger started to get disenchanted with each other...)

    One reason the Airplane wanted Garcia there was because they'd been disappointed with the production of their first record, feeling RCA was rather heavy-handed with the material. The actual producer of Surrealistic Pillow, Rick Jarrard, may not have gotten along so well with Garcia: he later denied Garcia was there at all; and in a March '67 interview, Garcia was none too flattering about Jarrard's role:
    "They’ve been victimized by the record company to some extent, in that they don’t have a say...their producer decides what their sound will be like sometimes. Hopefully, that won’t happen on their next album, though this album was more a product of them than their producer. But it was his idea to have a lot of echo and reverb, and they’re really not too satisfied with it."
    http://deadessays.blogspot.com/2010/12/jerry-garcia-surrealistic-pillow.html

    [As an aside, these Airplane sessions are one of the first examples of the lengths Garcia would go to to help other SF musicians. There are actually quite a few albums that would not exist the way they came out, if not for him. But that's a longer story for another day.]

    The Dead did not find RCA Studios a very congenial environment - the "quick pop song" requirements & timeclock mentality of the engineers was rather daunting for them, and that may have been another reason they rushed through the album. (They would start recording Anthem at RCA, but soon switched studios...and kept on switching studios, again and again.)

    You forgot to mention that 'Golden Road' wasn't recorded at RCA, but was recorded afterwards specifically for the single, at Coast Recorders in San Francisco. I don't know if Hassinger was present, but the Dead seem to have spent some time working on this song, with several overdubs, giving it a different sound than the rest of the album. Why they chose Coast (unless it was just the most immediately available for a booking), I don't know.

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    1. "There are actually quite a few albums that would not exist the way they came out, if not for him. But that's a longer story for another day."

      I hope this is a story you are planning to write!

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    2. It's written:
      http://deadessays.blogspot.com/2014/02/garcia-in-background.html

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    3. Man, this is great--anybody who has read this far down should follow the link. I was aware of Garcia's various contributions, of course, but when you see them in one list it's really impressive.

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  3. One leitmotif of this post is that the various smaller local studios the Dead tried out were not suitable for the music they wanted to make. I'm not so sure I'd put it that way - the Dead's musical ambitions (and talents) in '66 were nothing like they'd be a year later. I think their repeated disappointment may have been due to a combination of factors - their own inexperience with studio equipment and what sounds they could achieve; the limitations of their recording engineers; and their indecision as to just what they wanted to put on a record, with everyone feeling like the final effort was just another lukewarm compromise.
    The sessions in this period are what you might call more or less "live in the studio" (though vocals were generally dubbed); but after the first album, the Dead vowed not to work so simply again - they didn't want to record just how they played live - and that future sessions would be as long and complicated as necessary to achieve their vision. Part of this had to stem from listening to the more complicated, different-sounding multitracked music that was starting to come out in '67; part of it was also the disparity between the big 10-20 minute pieces they'd regularly play onstage vs. the 3-minute songs Warners expected on their album. And part of it was probably because the right recording format for them just didn't exist yet; they'd have to create some of it themselves.

    It's also worth mentioning that the Dead entered their early sessions with an immense distrust of the producer, the record labels & the recording process. This grew over time, and is noticeable not so much in their own statements as in producers' and Warner Brothers' comments about them. It was one reason they were so hesitant to sign a contract in '66, with the example of other "victimized" artists before them; and after one album they were quick to seize the studio for themselves with no outside interference.

    There is also a giant hole in this post, by the name of Bear. Though his home rehearsals of the band were not in a "studio" environment, the fact remains, through early '66 the band had experience taping LOTS of rehearsal demos, with an audio engineer who had very definite ideas about what they should sound like. (In fact, in his rehearsal tapes it's impossible to tell that they're "home tapes" rather than studio sessions.) The Dead were, at the least, used to recording & hearing themselves on tape. This has to have had some impact on how they approached actual studio sessions later on. In short, if you've had Owsley taping you at home, a studio engineer has to be pretty good to measure up!

    By the way - it was in a 1980 Relix interview that Garcia said that early on, "I did some various sessions around San Francisco. Demos and stuff like that. [Q: Anything that was released?] I really don't know."
    Unfortunately very vague, and since he follows that up with his claim to have played on a demo of 'Do You Wanna Dance,' perhaps unreliable as well. Though it's nice to imagine Garcia as a session hand in '65!

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    1. I confess to leaving a Bear-size hole in the story, but I was purposely constraining myself. It is a good point, however, that for a new band, even by 1966 the Grateful Dead would have heard decent sounding tapes of themselves. Thus, while they might not have known what they wanted from a studio recording, they could hear the playback and still say "whatever we want, that ain't it."

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  4. Hi Corry,

    Thanks for the nice summary. Looking forward to the next chapter.

    John

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