Friday, April 11, 2014

March 17, 1980 Masonic Hall, Seattle, WA: Robert Hunter and The Ghosts (Lost And Found)

The Ghosts, featuring Keith and Donna Godchaux, recorded in 1979-80, released an album on Whirled Records in 1984
This blog does not typically assess live concert tapes, whether well known or not, since so many other blogs and sites do a better job of that. In general, the archaeology of Hooterollin Around is focused on different sorts of evidence. However, when a tape is the only evidence that we have of a lost concert, and in particular one that may be very telling about the state of the Grateful Dead at a point in time, the blog is not going to ignore that information.

I am one of the few people who has attempted to document Robert Hunter's live performing history, particularly in the 1970s, in general, Hunter spent the mid-70s mostly working in somewhat conventional rock band settings, before finally narrowing his sights in mid-1978 to a mostly solo approach. Thus it was quite surprising to find a tape on the internet of Robert Hunter performing with Keith and Donna Godchaux  and their band The Ghosts, apparently (per the tape), on March 17, 1980 at the Masonic Temple in Seattle, Washington. While I have no other evidence save this, nevertheless the date is pretty plausible. Since Keith Godchaux would die in an unfortunate auto accident a few months later, it is easy to confirm that the tape is what it says it is--Robert Hunter making a live appearance, backed by two former members of the Grateful Dead and some other musicians. I have no idea whether this was for a single show or a few--I expect they played more than one show--but I had never heard of this collaboration before, and it tells me a number of interesting things.

The Tape
Here is the information. I have listened to the tape, and the setlist accurately describes the music. I have no other knowledge of this event.

The back cover of Robert Hunter's Promontory Rider album on Relix Records, an anthology that included material from the 1978 Alligator Moon sessions.
Robert Hunter and The Ghosts
March 17, 1980, Masonic Hall, Seattle, WAaudience recording
unknown gen cassette>cdr,unknown gen cassette>cdr
trade cdr > eac > wav > flac

Additional Lineage: Received as four long tracks,
tracks rejoined and retracked with Audacity,
Checksums and flac level 8 with traderslittlehelper

-Early Show?-
01 //Last Flash Of Rock and Roll
02 Stop That Train
03 Strange Man
04 Promontory Rider
05 Franklin's // Tower
06 -applause-
-Encore-
07 Better Move On

-Late Show?-
08 unknown snippet
09 Heart Of Glass >
10 Cruel White Water
11 Mississippi Half-Step
12 Sunshine Daydream >
Scarlet Begonias >
13 //Stella Blue >
Sunshine Daydream >
Scarlet Begonias
14 Last Flash Of Rock And Roll
15 Tiger Rose
16 -tuning-
17 It Takes A Lot To Laugh,
It Takes A Train To Cry

I can only guess at the lineup, based on listening to the tape and fragmentary information from their only release.
-The Ghosts-
Donna Godchaux vocals
Bill Middlejohn-guitar
Don Gaynor-guitar, vocals
Keith Godchaux piano, vocals
Larry Klein-bass
Grag Anton drums(I am not at all certain about this lineup, and anyone with additional information should put it in the Comments or email me. However, I will note that Steve Kimock's biography on his own site does not have him joining until later than March of 1980, when he joined The Heart Of Gold Band).

Since Hunter bids everyone goodnight after "Franklin's Tower," it appears the ensemble played two shows. The first part of the tape seems to be the end of the early show, and the later tracks seem to be the late show. Since they do not repeat songs, I assume that the venue had more of a nightclub setup, where fans could simply stay for the late show, rather than filing out and re-entering. The last two tracks (16.tuning and 17. It Takes A Lot To Laugh...) seem to be another edited-in bit, possibly from a different set or event.

[update]: thanks to a Correspondent, I have found out some information. There were at least three shows:
  • March 15, 1980: HUB Ballroom, U. of Washington, Seattle, WA
  • March 16, 1980: Fabulous Rainbow Tavern, Seattle, WA
  • March 17, 1980: Masonic Temple, Seattle, WA
The shows varied somewhat, but in general Robert Hunter performed solo and also sang a few numbers with The Ghosts. It appears there were multiple sets with different musicians coming and going, so it must have been more like a "Revue" than a simple Opener/Headliner setup. As a Commenter pointed out, it's worth considering that except for February and March 1980 (with the JGB and The Ghosts, respectively), Hunter never performed live with other members of the Grateful Dead. Given how many times Hunter has opened for numerous ensembles, that has to have been a conscious choice. Hunter's brief flirtation with Garcia and then in Seattle with The Ghosts seems to have been rejected as a route map.
After Midnight, recorded in February 1980, by the Jerry Garcia Band, featuring opening act Robert Hunter as a special guest

Robert Hunter Landscape, Spring 1980
Robert Hunter released two solo albums on Round in 1974 (Tales Of The Great Rum Runners) and 1975 (Tiger Rose). Although he had been quietly performing with a local group called Roadhog since 1974, he stepped forward under his own name in 1976. Robert Hunter and Roadhog peformed in the Summer of 1976, and in mid-1977, Hunter joined another existing group, Comfort. Robert Hunter and Comfort performed from mid-77 until mid-78. They recorded an unreleased album, Alligator Moon, made a couple of FM radio broadcasts and toured the East Coast. However, the band was apparently supported by Hunter, from his songwriting royalties, but in 1978 Hunter stopped performing with Comfort. For the next several months, he toured as a duo with former Comfort bassist Larry Klein. From 1979 onwards, Hunter was a solo performer.

When Hunter had been in Roadhog and Comfort, he had focused on performing his own songs. Hunter had made a point of not performing Grateful Dead songs with his own groups. I believe there was the occasional performance of a few chestnuts, like "Friend Of The Devil," but in general Hunter kept his own bands as distinct as he could from the Dead. Hunter's solo performances, while featuring a wide variety of new and old Hunter songs, also featured a lot of Grateful Dead songs. Most of those songs, however, were not being performed by the Grateful Dead in the late 70s, so it was fun for fans to hear live versions of songs like "China Cat Sunflower" or "Mr. Charlie," and there wasn't as much implicit reason to compare them with the contemporary Grateful Dead. In his own quiet way, Hunter celebrated his Grateful Dead connection while maintaining some artistic distance that allowed him to be evaluated as a performer in his own right.

Hunter's performance with The Ghosts, however, breaks all Hunter's conventions, more or less uniquely, as far as I can tell. Hunter sings "Franklin's Tower", "Mississippi Half-Step" and "Scarlet Begonias" in full out electric versions, and all three were staples of Grateful Dead live shows at the time. Hunter also does some songs from both his released and unreleased albums, and a solo version of a Blondie song (a standard thing for him at the time), but this recording is the only time I know of where Hunter puts himself, as a performer, into direct comparison with Garcia.

Keith And Donna Godchaux and The Ghosts
The performing history of The Ghosts is quite obscure. The band is only really known from a release on Whirled Records from 1984 (The Ghosts Playing In The Heart Of Gold Band), later re-released in various forms on Relix Records in 1986 and '88. Like all Relix releases, details are actually fairly sparse. I myself was not aware of any performances by The Ghosts in the Bay Area in 1979 or 1980, although there must have been a few. Keith and Donna Godchaux had left the Grateful Dead in March of 1979 (their last performance with the band was February 17, 1979), so I was alert to any new ventures by them. They very well may have played around a bit, but they seem to have kept a very low profile.

As rock fans, we always assumed that the members of our favorite bands were well-off, with an endless supply of "money for nothing," as Mark Knopfler put it. The reality was often quite different. Generally speaking, songwriters were the ones who made the most money in 1970s rock bands, and even the songwriters often had serious cash flow problems. Almost every 70s rock band, the Grateful Dead included, was effectively deficit financed, with loans from banks or the record company paying the day-to-day. Thus when revenue came in, it was often spoken for, so musicians could hardly count on a big payday, even if they sometimes got one. JGMF has documented how Jerry Garcia seems to have had serious tax issues in 1978. Even if Garcia was taking advice not to pay his tax bills (possibly as fallout from Round Records), it was a sign that Grateful Dead finances were hardly in good shape.

The Healy-Treece Band
When Keith and Donna Godchaux left the Grateful Dead, I don't think they really had any money. They probably got occasional royalty checks, but the amounts would have been unpredictable. They had to live on something, and as musicians, that meant playing music. I don't really have to guess at this--it's generally forgotten that Keith Godchaux toured with the Healy-Treece Band in 1979 and 1980, after they had left the Grateful Dead. It remains the most undocumented Grateful Dead spinoff band ever.

Healy-Treece Band (1980)
Dan Healy-vocals, guitar'
Richard Treece-lead guitar
Diane Mestrovich-vocals
Keith Godchaux-piano
Mike Larsheid-bass
Bill Kreutzmann-drums
The Healy-Treece Band had played a few dates in 1979, but they were only alluded to vaguely in Relix magazine. In 1980, however, the Healy-Treece Band booked the following shows
February 7, 1980 The Palms Club, Milwaukee, WI (tentative)
February 9, 1980 Stage Door, Providence, RI
February 10, 1980 Traces Club, Hillside, NJ
February 11, 1980 Toad's Club, New Haven, CT
February 12, 1980  Academy of Music Cabaret, Philadelphia, PA
February 13, 1980  Final Exam, Randolph, NJ
February 15, 1980  Speakers Club, New Paltz, NY
February 16, 1980 SUNY, Buffalo, NY
February 17, 1980  JB Scott's, Albany, NY
February 19, 1980 Paradise Club, Boston, MA
February 20, 1980  Fast Lane, Asbury Park, NJ
February 21, 1980 Stockton State College, Pomona, NJ
February 22, 1980 My Father's Place, Roslyn, NY
February 23, 1980 The Red Rail, Nancet, NY
February 24, 1980 The Lone Star, New York, NY
February 26-27, 1980 The Cellar Door, Washington, DC
February 28, 1980 ?
February 29-March 2, 1980 The Other End, New York, NY
[as always, anyone with any information, corrections or memories--real or imagined-- about the 1979-80 Healy/Treece Band, please include them in the comments or email me]

The rhythm section (Keith, Larsheid, Billy K) was the same as the late 1975 Keith and Donna Band. Diane Mestrovich is unknown to me, and I find it surprising that Keith went on the road without Donna. However, I can only guess that they really needed the money. I have never heard a tape of the Healy-Treece Band from this era, so I don't know how they sounded, or what they played. Guitarist Richard Treece seems to have been a long-standing friend of Healy's. I have confirmed that Treece was not the same Richard Treece that played with the fine English bands Help Yourself and Green Ray. Other than that, very little is known, though some interesting photos of the group at Toad's Place (Feb 11 '80) in New Haven can be seen here.

The Healy-Treece Band toured the same circuit of clubs that Robert Hunter had been playing n the East Coast, where there was always a need for any Grateful Dead proxy. I think Healy-Treece had played the same circuit the previous Fall--a second-hand eyewitness told me that Keith had mostly played electric bass, strange as that sounds. There is a photo of Keith Godchaux on stage at the Pastime Pub, in Amityville, NY, on May 10, 1979 and he is playing guitar, so who knows. (There is also a backstage photo, and Keith is playing a guitar as well). There are the faintest stories of Keith and Donna playing Mendocino bars under the name Billy And The Beaters, so perhaps the Healy-Treece configuration went back further than anyone realized.

Nonetheless, no band plays 20 dates in 23 days unless they need the money, so Keith and Donna must have needed money. The putative date of the Hunter/Ghosts show fits nicely with the known Healy/Treece schedule, too. We also know where Hunter was in February of 1980: touring the East Coast with the Jerry Garcia Band. We know from Hunter's own liner notes for the fine After Midnight set that money was a squeeze, which was one reason that Hunter had gone solo. So if there was a good paying Hunter/Ghosts gig in Seattle in mid-March, both Hunter and the Godchaux could have used the money.

update: reader John M saw the Healy/Treece Band, and recalled some of the setlist:
I attended the February 12, 1980, late show at the Academy Cabaret Theater, Philadelphia, PA; besides Healy and Treece, the band included Bill Kreutzman, Keith Godchaux (keys), and Kathi McDonald ( vocals); there was no stage and we sat on folding chairs...they were not memorable.

Here's my recollection of the set list:
Roll Over Beethoven
-unknown
Miss You (Rolling Stones)
-unknown
Knockin' On Heavens Door
Nobody Knows What's Goin' On
Stagger Lee
Never Gonna Let Her Go
Temptation
I Shall Be Released
~
Johnny B. Goode


Keith Godchaux's final live performance on July 10, 1980 at The Back Door in San Francisco, with his new band The Heart Of Gold Band, was released on Relix Records in 1986.
Aftermath
In many ways, the 1980 Ghosts performance with Hunter was a road not taken. I'm always curious as to how many other shows by this ensemble there might have been, but I have to think there weren't many. Sadly, Keith Godchaux died in a car crash on July 23, 1980, so no matter what, this didn't last long. Many people grumble today, rightly or wrongly, that groups like Furthur, Phil and Friends or Ratdog are just sort of pedigreed Grateful Dead copy bands. Yet back in 1980, here was three members of the Dead, treading awfully close to that territory. To my knowledge, Hunter never played electric versions of significant Grateful Dead songs again on stage. Was that a good thing? We'll never know.

Everything about performances by The Ghosts, and particularly this performance with Robert Hunter, remain appropriately spectral. Anyone with an eyewitness account, archaeological evidence,second hand rumors or just some intriguing speculation is encouraged to put them in the Comments, in the hopes that we can bring some more about this performance into the light.


14 comments:

  1. Where the eff did this come from? This is a really lovely & enjoyable alternate universe. Great analysis, as always. I wish the recording was of higher fidelity. It sounds like Keith is present in the music in a way he wasn't with the Dead during his last years with them.

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    1. I was totally amazed by this. I am more knowledgeable than most about obscure Grateful Dead spinoffs, and I literally had no idea about this tour. I had at least heard of the Healy-Treece 79/80 tours, although they remain unheard. But Robert Hunter playing Dead songs live with Keith and Donna, after they had both left the Dead? An alternate universe indeed.

      There is some lost history here, for sure, but no one has asked Hunter or Donna about it.

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  2. Hello everybody, I was at the Healy-Treece show on 2/23 80 at the Red Rail( which is in Nanuet New York, not Nancet NJ). Keith was actually playing bass guitar at that show, and I don't recall that there was a keyboard player . I also saw Robert Hunter, Country Joe with Barry Melton at the Red Rail.

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    1. Anon, thanks for providing a unique eyewitness memory. What songs did they play--all covers, I presume? Any Hunter or Dead material?

      And was Keith any good as a bassist?

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    2. Plus I fixed the state (NY for NJ) for Red Rail, thanks

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  3. Another point to consider re: RH: This is also the same period of time when he appeared on stage a few times with the Garcia Band, too. That didn't really happen other than 1980, no?

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    1. And it's worth noting that except for February (JGB) and March (Ghosts) of 1980, Hunter opened for members of the Grateful Dead many times, and never joined them on stage again. So it was a conscious decision--Hunter had plenty of opportunities.

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  4. Thanks to a correspondent, I have learned that there were two other shows with Hunter and The Ghosts in Seattle that weekend, and I have updated the post to include the known details.

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  5. Thanks for the heads up on this! I've never heard what Bill Middlejohn sounds like, but to my ears the guitarist on this 3/17/80 tape sounds an awful lot like a young Steve Kimock. fwiw...

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    1. Thanks Nick. It's possible that the March 17 shows feature Kimock, as he had moved to the Bay Area by that time. This show, and The Ghosts in general, are so thinly documented that anything is possible. The received history doesn't have Kimock debuting until July of 1980, but that is just one piece of data.

      I have been in contact with someone who went to the shows.There was an extra guitar player the first night (Mar 15), which could have been Kimock, but my correspondent doesn't think it was him. He said there was no extra guitar player on March 17, so that legislates against Kimock being there.

      Delete
  6. Oh, and this is a very minor detail, but re: "To my knowledge, Hunter never played electric versions of significant Grateful Dead songs again on stage" -- there is at least one other time I can think of. Apropos of Greg Anton and Steve Kimock, it was with Zero: Hunter guested with them singing Franklin's Tower in 1997, here: https://archive.org/details/zero97-10-24shn

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  7. Reader John M saw the Healy/Treece Band late show on February 12, 1980, at the Academy of Music Cabaret in Philadelphia. He recalled most of the setlist, which I have included in the main post.

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