Friday, December 11, 2015

Grateful Dead Performance List July-December 1966

A handbill for the Vancouver, BC Trips Festival. at the PNE Gardens from July 29-31, 1966. The Grateful Dead played all three days.
I have been working on this list for my own purposes, so I thought I would post it. Since there is no longer a definitive list of Grateful Dead shows that is easily accessible online, I have decided to post my own lists for brief periods of time. I will include links to where I have information on some dates that are not widely known, but I will be minimizing discussion of individual performances. In Tour Itinerary posts I have talked about even shorter periods of time, with the intent of creating a narrative that describes the Grateful Dead's activity during that window. This post is more of a simple list, however, to use as an anchor for research. My plan is to keep these lists up to date on an ongoing basis. Please suggest any additions, corrections or reservations in the Comments. For other posts listing Grateful Dead performances, see the link here. This post will list Grateful Dead performance dates from July through December of 1966.

A poster for the Grateful Dead performance at the Santa Venetia Armory on December 29, 1966. Santa Venetia is an unincorporated area near San Rafael, and the National Guard armory there was used for rock dances in the 1960s.
July 3, 1966 Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA: Love/Grateful Dead/Group B
The show was on a Sunday night, but it was the night before July 4, so it was still effectively Saturday night. Love was much bigger than the Grateful Dead at the time. Group B was from Davis, and played a weird sort of baroque rock.

July 8-9, 1966 Armory, Santa Venetia, CA: Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service
Santa Venetia was an unincorporated suburb of San Rafael, and there were regular teen dances at the National Guard Armory there. Some years later, the Dead would rehearse with Keith Godchaux at the Armory. There apparently is a poster with Sopwith Camel instead of the Dead.

A poster for the Thursday night Fillmore show with the Dead, Big Brother and the no-doubt fascinating but unrecorded Hindustani jazz sextet with Don Ellis and Hari Har Rao.
July 14, 1966 Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Big Brother and The Holding Company/Hindustani Jazz Sextet
This Thursday night show was presented by The San Francisco Calliope Company, rather than Bill Graham Presents. The Hindustani Jazz Sextet featured trumpeter Don Ellis and sitarist Hari Har Rao (a colleague of Ravi Shankar). Today it would be called "World Music," but the term didn't exist at the time.

July 15-17, 1966 Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA: Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead
Sunday, July 17 was an afternoon show.

July 29-31, 1966 PNE Garden Auditorium, Vancouver, British Columbia: Vancouver Trips Festival
The Dead played the Vancouver Trips Festival along with Big Brother. Big Brother definitely took the train, but I don't know for sure about the Dead. The Dead played on all three days, I think.

August 3, 1966 bandshell, Stanley Park, Vancouver, British Columbia: Grateful Dead/United Empire Loyalists [free concert]
This was the first time the Grateful Dead played for free in a park, memorably described by the then-teenage members of the teenage band United Empire Loyalists, and confirmed by Rock Scully. The idea was to popularize the upcoming Friday night show in Vancouver. It worked. The Dead took the idea home with them, and then around the country. The date has now been determined to have been Wednesday, August 3. A fellow scholar writes 
The location is variously recalled as the gazebo at First Beach Park; a bandstand on English Bay Beach; or Haywood Bandstand in Alexandra Park. From what I can tell, these are all different names for more or less the same place
The poster for the Grateful Dead's performance at the Pender Auditorium in Vancouver on August 5, 1966
August 5, 1966 Pender Auditorium, Vancouver, British Columbia; Grateful Dead/United Empire Loyalists
There was only one night at Pender Auditorium. Lists that include Saturday August 6 did not look closely at the poster (a fact confirmed by numerous sources).

The Grateful Dead were booked at an afternoon benefit at Fillmore Auditorium on Sunday, August 7. However, it seems that the Dead did not play. Most likely there were problems getting back from Vancouver.

August 12-13, 1966 Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA: Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead
Understandably, the Grateful Dead found Owsley's sound system too difficult to take on the road, so Owsley apparently sold it to Bill Graham. Left in place, and not having to be broken down every night, Owsley's system lived up to its potential. According to details I have pieced together, I think the Dead played this gig and left the sound system in place. Owsley bought the Dead a newer, simpler system, and focused on other business interests.

August 19-20, 1966 Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Sopwith Camel
The previous time the Dead had played the Avalon, their PA was so loud that Avalon soundman Bob Cohen could not use his in-house intercom system to talk to his crew. So by this time, Cohen invented noise-canceling headphones to compensate, from which we have all benefited.

A flyer for the three day "Folk-Rock Festival and Bicycle Race" in tiny Pescadero, on August 26-28, 1966
August 26-28, 1966 IDES Hall, Pescadero, CA: Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service/The Induction Center Tour Del Mar Bicycle Race and Folk-Rock Festival
Pescadero is a tiny town on the coast, in San Mateo county but on the other side of the mountains from the suburbs, which are on the bay. IDES was a Portugese-American social club, whose halls were often available for rent.  Larry Rogers, an old friend of the band, reported on Facebook that he attended one of these shows and said there was only a few dozen fans in attendance. The Induction Center were a local band. Rogers also said that the Dead only played the first two nights, and as our only eyewitness, it seems likely that at least the Dead did not play on Sunday, August 28.

September 2, 1966 La Dolphine, Hillsborough, CA: Grateful Dead/Walt Tolleson Orchestra
Bob Weir's sister Wendy had been a debutante, although she had debuted back in the Spring of '66. Nonetheless, when the very wealthy Mattei sisters (also known as the Mattel family, not connected to the toys) had a party at the largest estate on the Peninsula, the connections were in place to hire the Dead. Supposedly the sisters insisted--good for them. The Dead played for about 100 well dressed teenagers. The event was written up in the Society Pages of the San Francisco Chronicle.

September ?,1966 House Party, Cabin at 50 Wurr Road, Loma Mar CA
LIA reports

Larry Rogers (who had attended the Pescadero shows the previous week) writes: “I told them I was having a party soon and asked if they would like to come and to play. I asked them at the Pescadero event. Garcia was all for it… It was my house…the house was actually in Memorial Park… There were no neighbors and we were surrounded by redwoods and off the beaten path… There were maybe 20 folks there, lots of LSD… I remember that they played Midnight Hour for about an hour.” (Rogers also wrote the liner notes for the 4/14/72 CD release.)
Saturday, September 3 seems a likely date.

September 4, 1966 Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service/Country Joe and The Fish
Since this was Labor Day weekend, a Sunday night show was like a weekend show. County Joe and The Fish were just an underground Berkeley band at the time.

September 11, 1966 Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA: Jon Hendricks Trio/Elvin Jones/Joe Henderson Quartet/Big Mama Thornton/Denny Zeitlin Trio/Jefferson Airplane/Great Society/Wildflower/Grateful Dead (unbilled) Benefit for The Both/And jazz club
Among many other subplots at this lengthy benefit, Jack Casady asked Great Society singer Grace Slick if she would be interested in replacing soon-to-depart Jefferson Airplane singer Signe Andrsen.

September 16-17, 1966 Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Oxford Circle
The Vintage Dead lp has the iconic Kelly/Mouse poster from this date, but was probably actually recorded from a later show.

While the Grateful Dead's free performances at The Panhandle, a park-like area between Oak and Fell Streets, just East of Golden Gate Park, have become legend, those events may only be part of the story. It seems that in the late Summer and Fall of 1966, soon after the Dead relocated to 710 Ashbury, the band began playing for free in Golden Gate Park itself. Apparently, they played shows in Speedway Meadows--no permits, no publicity, no cops, all fun. Those few who were there say that this was as fun as anything ever could be, but little trace remains of such events.

A poster for the mysterious shows at the Pioneer Ballroom in Suisun City, CA, on September 23-24, 1966. Nothing is known about these events, even if they were actually held, save for the surviving poster.
September 23-24, 1966 Pioneer Ballroom, Suisun City, CA: Grateful Dead/13 Experience
Save for an obscure flyer, we know nothing about these shows, nor even anything about the venue. I have to assume the Ballroom was still intact due to the explosion of music in Northern California due to World War 2, but even so, if the show occurred, it must have been strange indeed.

[update: I have found an eyewitness and confirmed this event. I was wrong about almost everything, but happy to know the facts now]
Suisun City had been a crucial transshipment point for grain since the 1850s, since it was on the tip of a waterway that ultimately led to San Francisco Bay. Suisun City is in the middle of Solano County, roughly halfway between San Francisco and Sacramento. In 1869, the first Transcontinental Railroad linked Suisun City to the entire country. By the mid-20th century however, trucks had taken over from trains and the grain shipment business declined. The Pioneer Ballroom had been a grain storage warehouse for many decades, but when that business ended in the early 1960s, the owners converted it to a skating rink called M&M Skateland.

Since skating rinks were a popular site for teenagers on weekends, they often presented music. Roller skating rinks played an important role in the history of post WW2 music, well into the rock and roll era, but that is a subject for another time. Fairfield, the town next to Suisun City, had a popular skating rink called Redman's Roller Rink (at 2250 N. Texas Street). In the 1960s, Redman's often presented local and regional acts like The Golliwogs, and sometimes even national touring acts. In 1964, jazz great Louis Armstrong played Redman's.

My eyewitness grew up in Fairfield, but his grandparents lived across the street from the warehouse that became the Pioneer Ballroom, on the corner of Morgan and Kellogg in Suisun City. He recalls that when the Fillmore scene hit, the operators of Skateland simply named it "Pioneer Ballroom" and put up a stage in a corner of the rink, just like Redman's had done. He only recalls three shows. He attended the first one, with The Sir Douglas Quintet, but there were only about 20 people attending. The second show was the great Los Angeles group Love, and the third one was the Dead.

My eyewitness, then thirteen years old, was at his grandparent's house and really wanted to see the Dead show. His grandmother, however--clearly a woman of sound judgement--refused to let him cross the street. But we now know for a fact that the shows occurred. To his recollection, the Grateful Dead weekend was the last set of shows at the Pioneer Ballroom.

September 30, 1966 International Room, San Francisco State College, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/The Only Alternative and His Other Possibilities with Mimi Farina
There was a weekend of events at San Francisco State surrounding an Acid Test, the last legal one in California. New research has unraveled some of the exact details of who performed each day.

October 1, 1966 Women's Gym, San Francisco State College, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Congress of Wonders/Universal Parking Lot/Dino Valenti/San Andreas Fault Finders
Universal Parking Lot became the group Phoenix. The San Andreas Fault Finders were a sort of jug band. Ken Kesey was present at this performance.

A midnight performance at the Mens' Gym featuring the Jefferson Airplane and Butterfield Blues Band, who were headlining over at Winterland, was canceled at the request of the police. A young black man had been shot by the SF police, and there had been riots in the Fillmore district.

October 2. 1966 Commons Lawn, San Francisco State College, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/The Only Alternative and His Other Possiblities/The Committee/Congress Of Wonders

October 6, 1966 The Panhandle, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Big Brother And The Holding Company/Elektric Chamber Orkustra Love Pageant Rally
LSD was made illegal in the State of California on this Thursday, and the Dead and Big Brother held an unscheduled free concert in the Panhandle. There had already been at least one free concert in the Panhandle, with Country Joe and The Fish on August 13, and the Dead had played some free shows at Speedway Meadows in Golden Gate Park, but this was the first free Grateful Dead show in the Panhandle (which, by the way, is not actually part of Golden Gate Park). This was a seminal event, as local freaks from everywhere in Northern California discovered that there were a lot more of them in the Bay Area than anyone thought, as a few thousand people attended.

October 7-9, 1966 Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA: Jefferson Airplane/Butterfield Blues Band/Grateful Dead (Sunday Oct 9 was a 2pm Fillmore show)
Butterfield Blues Band and Jefferson Airplane were headlining three straight weekends at Winterland, with different acts on the bill, and this middle weekend was the Dead's turn. Due to the police having shot a black man in the Fillmore district, the neighborhood was very tense, and the shows (with the Dead replaced by Big Mama Thornton) were thinly attended. Thus, this weekend's shows were moved back to the much smaller Fillmore (confirmed by a Commenter from the SF Chronicle).

October 8, 1966 Mt. Tamalpais Amphitheater, Mill Valley, CA: Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service/Bola Sete "1st Congressional District Write-In Committee for Phil Drath and Peace Benefit"
This Saturday afternoon show began at 2:00pm. Joan Baez and Mimi Farina also appeared.
An ad from the student paper, The Stanford Daily, for the Grateful Dead concert at the Tressider Student Union on Friday, October 14, 1966. There were no rock concerts at Tressider after this show.

October 14, 1966 Tressider Memorial Union Deck, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA: Grateful Dead/Wildflower
In 1966, Stanford University regularly held concerts at the Student Union. But not after this one. The Stanford Daily implied that the Dead were banned from campus. Must have been a hella good time. 

October 15, 1966 Sausalito Heliport, Sausalito, CA: Grateful Dead/Transatlantic Railroad
In the early 1960s, it was widely believed that Helicopters would supersede automobiles as personal vehicles, just as the automobile had replaced the streetcar. At the very least, helicopters were going to replace buses. So there was a profusion of helicopter-related commercial developments (I am not making any of this up). One such project was the Sausalito Heliport, owned by real estate entrepreneur Don McCoy, who was also a friend and neighbor (at 715 Ashbury) of the Grateful Dead. Since business was slow, and helicopter users didn't mind noisy rock music, initially the Heliport was used as a concert venue. Later it turned out that it was better suited as a rehearsal space, and many bands, including the Dead at one point (in mid-1967), rehearsed there throughout the 1960s. 

October 16, 1966 The Panhandle, San Francisco, CA: Artists Liberation Front
A two-day festival was held on Saturday and Sunday (October 15-16), with the major San Francisco bands playing for free in the Panhandle. It's not clear which day the Dead appeared, but logic seems to suggest that it was Sunday, October 16.
update: commenter LIA cites the quote from Mojo Navigator
"On the 6th of October there was a rally in the Golden Gate Park Panhandle with the Grateful Dead, Big Brother & the Holding Co., and the Wildflower, followed last Sunday [the 16th] by another Panhandle festival, the Artists Liberation Front’s Free Fair. Bands appearing were the Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Grateful Dead, Country Joe and the Fish... After the Fair, the Family Dog held its first anniversary dance at Avalon, with Big Brother & the Holding Company... Jerry Garcia played one song with the Holding Company..." (Later that night Pigpen & Garcia took part in a blues jam session.
October 16, 1966 Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA: Big Brother And The Holding Company
Per the great Mojo Navigator fanzine, we know that Jerry Garcia made a guest appearance with Big Brother, after the ALF event.

October 21-22, 1966 Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Lighnin' Hopkins/Loading Zone
The Chocolate Watch Band may have played one night, possibly substituting for the Loading Zone, or possibly added to the bill. 

October 23, 1966 Las Lomas High School, Walnut Creek, CA: Grateful Dead
This Sunday afternoon event was part of a series that was originally scheduled for the Walnut Creek Library. Phil Lesh's parent's attended this show. A great Comment thread over on JGMF collects some eyewitness accounts.
Pigpen making an appearance in the SF Chronicle society page (October 31, 1966), as the Grateful Dead played the opening of the fashionable North Face shop

October 26, 1966 North Face Ski Shop, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead
Doug and Susie Tompkins had a hip boutique in North Beach called North Face, a Yosemite reference. The Grateful Dead were hired to play at the opening of the store. I assume the band played just a few numbers. The opening was covered in the Society Pages of the SF Chronicle, marking a rare Pigpen appearance in that section of the paper. Doug and Susie Tompkins went on to found the Esprit clothing line. 

The Dead and the Airplane were advertised for a show at St. Mary's College in Moraga on September 28, just over the hill from Berkeley. Later ads just have the Airplane, so it appears the Dead either canceled or were never really booked.

Fall 1966, American Legion Hall, South Lake Tahoe, CA: Grateful Dead
The whole history of rock bands in Lake Tahoe is complex and obscure, but the Dead played a big part in it. However, the band's first, unheralded appearance was well after the summer season. Apparently they only played to a few dozen people, and Pigpen wore guns on stage.

October 31, 1966 California Hall, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service/Mimi Farina
The Dead were touted for Ken Kesey's widely anticipated "Acid Test Graduation" at Winterland on Halloween, but they were already committed to the California Hall event. On top of that, the "Graduation" was going to attract a lot of unwanted attention from authorities, considering that LSD was now illegal. In the end, the Dead played California Hall, the Winterland event was canceled, and Kesey and the Merry Pranksters had their graduation at a tiny warehouse. However, author Tom Wolfe attended the warehouse event, and the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test followed 18 months later.

November 4-5, 1966, Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Oxford Circle
There are different dates on the poster and handbill (Nov 3-4 vs 4-5), but at the time Avalon shows were weekend only, so November 4-5 would be correct

November 12, 1966 Old Cheese Factory, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Andrew Staples
The Old Cheese Factory, at 517 Washington Street, near Ghirardelli Square, was only used this one time for rock concerts. Andrew Staples was the re-named Group B, from Davis.

November 13, 1966 Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Big Brother And The Holding Company/Quicksilver Messenger Service Zeneift

November 18-20, 1966 Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/James Cotton Blues Band/Lothar And The Hand People
The Sunday show (November 20) was from 2-7pm. I believe there was one admission for the afternoon show, and then the house turned over for the SNCC Benefit later that night, featuring the same bands with additional guests.

A poster for the SNCC Benefit at Fillmore on November 20, 1966
November 20, 1966 Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service/James Cotton Blues Band/Johnny Talbot And De Thangs SNCC Benefit
Jon Hendricks also appeared at this event, and could have sang with the Dead, which is a nice thought. The Dead had just finished backing Hendricks on the soundtrack to a movie called Fire In The City, later released as a single under Hendricks' name. No one, including Hendricks, has mentioned him singing on state with the Dead, but I like to imagine it anyway.

November 23, 1966 Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA: Bill Graham Presents Thanksgiving Party
Bill Graham celebrated his first year as a rock promoter with a Thanksgiving party. Originally scheduled for Thursday, November 23(it has been confirmed that the event was not delayed until November 27). The Grateful Dead and other bands played the event.

November 28-December 1, 1966 The Matrix, San Francisco, CA: Gratefuld Dead/Jerry Pond

December 2, 1966 Pauley Ballroom, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA: Grateful Dead/Country Joe And The Fish

December 9-11, 1966 Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Tim Rose/Big Mama Thornton

December 14 or 15, 1966 Gym, College of Marin, Kentfield, CA: Grateful Dead
The day of the week of this College of Marin dance is uncertain, but there is no doubt that it happened. Future Sons Of Champlin road manager Charlie Kelly returned home from Basic Training on his way to Vietnam, and saw the Dead a few days before The Sons debuted at the Avalon on his birthday(Friday Dec 16). So the week stuck in his mind.

An article in the Country Almanac reporting on the December 17, 1966 performance by the Grateful Dead at Ladera School (Ladera is just above Menlo Park)
December 17, 1966 Ladera School, Ladera, CA: Grateful Dead
Ladera was an unincorporated community in the hills above Menlo Park and Palo Alto, just West of Stanford University. The Ladera School was a public K-5th school, which is now the private Woodland School (I believe K-8). Some parents used the Ladera School gym to put on dances for the local teenagers, by then in High School. This was probably because there was little for the teenagers to do in Ladera. A few successful dances had been put on, so the parents decided to pay the Dead $2000 to perform. December 17 was a Saturday, and there was no way a working band was going to pass on a Saturday night booking. Tickets were $1.00.

Although there had been rumors about this event over the years, the mystery was finally resolved when Ladera scholar Susan Suesser found a 1966 article about the dance in the neighborhood newspaper, the Ladera Crier, and then recounted in the local newspaper, the Country Almanac. The article was republished in the fine In Menlo blog. There's no doubt about this one--the Country Almanac even had a picture of Pigpen.

December 20, 1966 Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA: Otis Redding/Grateful Dead
Otis Redding played three mid-week nights (Tuesday through Thursday) at the Fillmore, and the Dead were the opening act the first night. The Fillmore had rows of folding chairs for these shows, and most of the tickets were bought by the largely African-American residents of the Fillmore district. It is likely that Otis Redding had played the Fillmore before for Charles Sullivan, Graham's predecessor.

The Grateful Dead headlined a show at the Continental Ballroom in Santa Clara (a San Jose suburb) on December 21, 1966
December 21, 1966 Continental Ballroom, Santa Clara, CA: Grateful Dead
The Continental, at 1600 Martin Avenue in Santa Clara (a suburb of San Jose) was a converted roller skating rink. The Warlocks apparently had played their the year before, when it was called The Continental Roller Bowl. San Jose had a thriving teen rock scene, and this Wednesday night show would have been aimed at teenagers who had the week off from school.

December 23-24, 1966 Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA: Grateful Dead/Moby Grape/Steve Miller Band
These weekend shows were the ballroom debuts of both Moby Grape and the Steve Miller Band. Both of the acts had only played little clubs (save for a poorly attended debut for the Grape), but these shows brought their music to much wider audiences. Research by leading scholars has suggested that at least some, if not all, of Vintage Dead came from one of these shows.

December 28, 1966 Governor's Hall, State Fairgrounds, Sacramento, CA: Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service Beaux Arts Ball
The Beuax Arts Ball was a big social event at Cal State Sacramento, sort of a combination arts show and party. This show appears to have been the Dead's Sacramento debut. There is a whiff that the band may have played nearby UC Davis in the fall of 1966, but I am unable to pin that down.

December 29, 1966 Santa Venetia Armory, Santa Venetia, CA: Grateful Dead/Moby Grape/Morning Glory

December 30-31 Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA: Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead/Quicksilver Messenger Service
On Saturday, December 31, BGP inaugurated the New Year's Eve Fillmore blowout. The poster says "9pm-9am." No one remembers anything.









Friday, November 6, 2015

Album Economics: Bear's Choice-The History Of The Grateful Dead, Vol. 1 (Why?)

The album cover of the final Grateful Dead Warner Brothers lp, The History Of The Grateful Dead, Vol. 1 (Bear's Choice), released in July 1973
While the Grateful Dead were legends almost from their inception, in their first several years, the albums they released on Warner Brothers played a huge part in spreading that legend. Of course, it was attending live Dead concerts that put people On The Bus, but for most fans in the early 70s, hearing some of their albums sparked the interest or willingness to attend a Grateful Dead concert in the first place. Most of the albums from the band's time on Warner Brothers are revered today, even if they weren't upon release, except one: the band's last release on Warners, in July 1973, with the provocative title of History Of The Grateful Dead, Vol. 1, but usually referred to by its parenthetical add-on (Bear's Choice).

I can recall the anticipation when Bear's Choice was released, and the mystification and dismay when I actually listened to it. Time has not really improved the album's reception. Only the most thorough of Deadheads even recalls it, and the record is almost never mentioned in blogs, tweets or posts, much less with any fondness. As most Deadheads became more knowledgeable about the breadth of the band's music, we became aware that Bear's Choice consisted of tracks recorded from some of the finest Grateful Dead concerts of 1970, and I for one became convinced that the least attractive songs were chosen. The release of a bad, dated live album from a great set of tapes was a strange decision for a band to make, but it was actuallly consistent with the long-gone practices of the 1970s record industry. This post will review the History Of The Grateful Dead Vol. 1 (Bear's Choice) album in its proper context, and make some case for how such a peculiar release came to exist.

The rear cover of Bear's Choice (actually from the cd re-release)
The Bear's Choice Album
Most Deadheads today forget about Bear's Choice, if they ever even knew about it in the first place. Back in '73, however, there were only 10 Grateful Dead albums in existence (including the two dubious ones on MGM/Sunflower, Vintage Dead and Historic Dead). For all but the hippest of the hip in San Francisco or Brooklyn, there were no Dead tapes in circulation. In New York City, at least, there were Grateful Dead bootleg lps circulating, but they too were a rare commodity unknown in the outside world. The Grateful Dead were no different than Ten Years After or The Byrds: if the music wasn't available on LP at your local record dealer, that music didn't exist. 

So when the Grateful Dead left Warner Brothers for their own self-financed label after the release of the Europe '72 triple-live album, it was not surprising to find out that they owed the label one more album. It was pretty exciting for a suburban 15-year old like me to read that they would release an album from three-year-old tapes. For me, 1970 was before I started listening to the Dead, so as far as I was concerned the forthcoming album would pretty much be a time machine, transporting me to the fabled, long-gone days of the Fillmores. But come July, and this strange album came out (details from Deaddisc, of course):

History Of The Grateful Dead, Vol. 1 (Bear's Choice)

Grateful Dead

Initial release : July 1973
Warner Bros. BS-2721
The Dead's last album for Warner Brothers. A single LP of acoustic and electric material from the shows on February 13 and 14, 1970 at the Fillmore East
Tracks

  • Katie Mae (Hopkins)
  • Dark Hollow (Browning)
  • I've Been All Around This World (Traditional, arr. Grateful Dead)
  • Wake Up Little Susie (Bryant/Bryant)
  • Black Peter (Garcia/Hunter)
  • Smokestack Lightnin' (Burnett)
  • Hard To Handle (Redding/Isabell/Jones)
Musicians

  • Jerry Garcia - acoustic guitar, lead guitar, vocals
  • Bob Weir - acoustic guitar, electric guitar, vocals
  • Ron "Pig Pen" McKernan- acoustic guitar, organ, percussion, harmonica, vocals
  • Phil Lesh - bass
  • Mickey Hart - drums
  • Bill Kreutzmann - drums
Credits

  • Recorded Live by Bear: February 13-14, 1970 at the Fillmore East, New York, NY
  • Produced by: Owsley Stanley
Notes
The songs on Bear's Choice are taken from the following shows;
  • Katie Mae, Wake Up Little Susie, Black Peter and Smokestack Lightnin' - February 13, 1970
  • Dark Hollow, I've Been All Around This World and Hard To Handle - February 14, 1970

At the time Bear's Choice came out, I was probably a relatively typical Deadhead. I was a teenager in the suburbs, I had all but two of the Warners albums (I didn't have Anthem Of The Sun or Aoxomoxoa yet), and I had heard the Vintage Dead lp, but I didn't yet have any of the tapes or bootlegs. I had been fortunate enough to see the Grateful Dead twice already (Winterland Dec 12 '72 and Maples Feb 9 '73), but it all had been pretty overwhelming. Sure, there were crusty 24-year olds in San Rafael, the East Village or Montague Street who had seen the Dead a bunch of times over the years and had at least heard some tapes or bootlegs, but nationally, most Deadheads were more like me than those veterans. 

Of the seven songs on Bear's Choice, three were acoustic, three were by Pigpen, six were covers, and they only electric Jerry song was the mournful "Black Peter" (I think Pigpen played organ on it). While I recognized that the record was a sort of tribute to the recently diseased Pigpen, it was a strange tribute: the "anchor song" was a seemingly interminable blues song ("Smokestack Lightning") that I knew as a Yardbirds cover. The Otis Redding cover ("Hard To Handle") was intriguing, but it had a strange, clunky arrangement. The Everly Brothers song ("Wake Up Little Susie") was cute, but trivial, and it was difficult to process. As for "Katie Mae" and "Dark Hollow" I knew nothing about the Dead's 1970 acoustic sets, nor did most fans--were these typical, or random?

And who was "Bear", and why did he get to choose?

Aoxomoxoa, released in June 1969, and recorded on the Grateful Dead's original contract with Warners
Grateful Dead Record Contracts 1966-1973
The strange, counterproductive tale of Bear's Choice can only be understood in the context of the Grateful Dead's record contracts with Warners, which in turn only makes sense because of industry practices at the time. Despite the Dead's best efforts to break that mold, efforts that largely succeeded, the band fell prey to the least forward looking approach typical of bands at the time, and they did not help their own cause. 

The Grateful Dead's first record contract was signed with Warner Brothers executive Joe Smith around December 1966, although they had agreed in principle a few months earlier and had just spent time negotiating the details. The general outline of the deal was that the Grateful Dead agreed to deliver three albums to Warners, although Warners probably had an option for another album or two, per typical contracts of the time. However, the Dead had made somewhat better decisions than some of their contemporaries. 

For one thing, the Dead's Warner Brothers contract gave them complete artistic control of their albums. For another, while typical album contracts of the era required that a band deliver a certain number of songs (tracks) to qualify as an album (usually 10 in the US), the Dead had a jazz-inspired deal. Thanks to Rock Scully, who had conferred with some jazz musicians, the Dead were only required to deliver a certain number of recorded minutes, like a jazz artist, rather than a specific number of tracks. There were still economic reasons for them to make up song titles on Anthem Of The Sun, but that had to with mechanical publishing royalties (a dense subject I have addressed elsewhere) rather than a record company obligation. The Dead also retained the music publishing rights to their own songs (through IceNine publishing), largely because Joe Smith and Warners did not realize that popular rock songs would have such a long shelf life and did not care (per Smith's own admission). 

By mid-1969, the Dead had produced Aoxomoxoa, their third album, and were in a position to renegotiate their contract with Warners. The band themselves did not know that, however, and manager Lenny Hart negotiated an extension with Warner Brothers without the band members' knowledge. Both Columbia and MGM had interest in the Dead, but Lenny had his reasons for negotiating directly, mainly to get his hands on the advance money more easily. Thus the Dead ended 1969 with an extension from  Warner Brothers. 

I believe that Live/Dead was released (in November '69) as an option on the original contract, and that the Dead subsequently had a five-album deal with an option for two more, but it doesn't really matter. By the end of the year, the Dead had a substantial commitment to deliver more material to Warner Brothers. One of the confusing aspect of old record contracts was that double or triple albums could be construed as single or double albums as part of the contract, subject to negotiation between the artist and the record company. The negotiation was inevitably over how much the record company would charge for the album and what rate the band would get paid at. A band could deliver two albums worth of material to a record company, but the company could release each album separately or simply charge double for the album, wrecking sales. 

Both Skull and Roses and Europe 72 were sold for far less than double or triple retail price, so I think in the case of something like those records, Warners counted the other LPs as part of one album so that left the Dead owing one more record to Warners to fulfill their contract. After the Dead had told Warners they weren't renewing, Warners wasn't going to do the group any favors (see the Appendix below for some coherent speculation about the Dead's obligations to Warners, which likely included the Garcia and Ace albums).

The remnants of the band Blues Project released an album's worth of blues jams on Verve in 1968, so that most of the members would be free to record as Sea Train on Capitol in 1969. Verve released it anyway, with the ironic title of Planned Obsolescence. I like both Blues Project and Seatrain, yet this was still a waste of tape.
The Early 70s Rock And Roll Record Business
The Grateful Dead have a reputation for having been true mavericks of the music business, blazing a trail for others to follow decades later. In many ways this reputation is justified. However, in many other ways, the Dead fell prey to much of the false logic of the record business of the time, and much to their own detriment. The strange song choices of Bear's Choice betray the Grateful Dead's acceptance of certain 1970s assumptions about the record business and the rock audience, assumptions that were proven fundamentally incorrect less than 20 years later. While the Dead had their own peculiar twist on these assumptions, the assumptions were still wrong.

Consider the Dead's position in early 1973. After being a sort of infamous cult band in the '60s, that had never sold many records, the group had climbed into the middle tier of touring rock bands. They had released four successful albums in a row (Workingman's, American Beauty, Skull And Roses, Europe '72), all of which had garnered good FM airplay, and their concert receipts had continued to increase. Rather than just being popular in a few strongholds like Northern California and New York Metro, the band could play profitable shows in Wembley or Wichita. If a band was ever going to go it alone, the Grateful Dead had picked a great time--on a roll with their releases, and playing great live shows in a booming rock concert industry.

Yet in order to go it alone, the Dead still owed an album release to Warner Brothers. Obviously they weren't going into the studio, and obviously they weren't going to give Warners any new, original material if they could help it. The effort and hopeful rewards of writing and recording new material would accrue to Grateful Dead Records. So it wasn't surprising to read in Rolling Stone (or possibly Joel Selvin's column in the SF Chronicle) that the Dead would fulfill their obligation with an LP of older live material. At the time, I was still 14 years old, and very few Dead fans would have been twice my age. Tapes and bootlegs were largely unknown in the suburbs, so a live album from the past was enticing indeed, since I had no other means of getting that music.

Successful groups changing record labels wasn't unheard of in the early 1970s. The Rolling Stones had moved from Decca Records (London Records in the US) to Atlantic in early 1970. Decca had punished them by releasing a terrible album of outtakes called Stone Age in 1971, which no one remembers. This was a typical record company maneuver. The reasoning was that rock fans were kids, fickle and with limited resources. If they bought the "next" album by a group and it was crummy, the kids would figure "this band's no longer hip" and move on, because they didn't have money to waste. Another variation of this was for a record company to release some sort of "Best Of" album when a group left the label (MGM released MotherMania when Zappa went to Warners in '68), with the idea that it would cut into sales of any newly released album by the artist.

On the other side, rock bands often had an equally hostile attitude towards their record company. When a group left a label, there was often a lot of hostility and frustration, usually over money. On one hand, record contracts were structured to overwhelmingly favor the label. New artists usually had no leverage, and particularly in the 60s, no one knew how much money was really going to be made. So artists with a quick hit often felt taken advantage of, with some justification. Of course, the same artists had no idea how much of their own money they were wasting on new gear and first class airline tickets, fronted by the label out of future royalties.

Thus when a band needed to turn in a final album to escape a record contract, they often had no desire to let their former employer have a good record. In one particularly emblematic case, there had been a groundbreaking group from 1965-67 called The Blues Project, who had been very hip and popular in the early days of the Fillmore, and had released two memorable albums on MGM-Verve. Although they were a Greenwich Village band, some members ended up reforming the group in Marin County in 1968. Rapidly they evolved into the interesting group Seatrain, and were signed by A&M. However, in order to escape their obligation to Verve and sign as Seatrain, they had to produce one more Blues Project album. They released an album of formless jams called Planned Obsolescence, a meaningless exercise. Verve released it anyway.

The Grateful Dead had released five successful albums in a row on Warners, going back to Live/Dead, and seven if you count Garcia and Ace. Yet they had been persuaded by Ron Rakow, with some justification, that Warners was taking too big a share of their receipts from those albums. Now, Warners had distribution and radio promotion with a lot of overhead, but according to Rakow at least, the Dead were getting only 31 cents from every album sale (albums sold for around 3 or 4 dollars at the time). Most Grateful Dead fans were like me--suburban or college kids, unconnected to any underground network, getting all their music from new lps. Yet the Dead had no plans to give Warners an album that would keep up the string of exciting albums they had released in the preceding four years. 

The image from the 1967 Pigpen t-shirt, promoted by Warners
Owsley And Pigpen
I do not think the Grateful Dead actively planned to put out a strange album for their final Warners release. However, they did the next closest thing: they assigned the project to Owsley. The Dead had made the decision by the end of 1972 to go independent, and Warners must have made it clear that another album was required to escape the contract. I'm sure there would have been no other concessions on Warners part, either, like a good advance, so the band would have wanted to do it cheaply.

Owsley "Bear" Stanley had been in Federal Prison from July 1970 until about July 1972 on charges of illicit LSD distribution. The Dead's touring operation was on a solid financial footing by the time Owsley returned, and their sound system was handled by Alembic Engineering, a company that Owsley had helped found. However, for all his legendary status, Owsley didn't have a financial stake in Alembic itself, and he didn't really have an official job with the crew either. Owsley wanted to be in charge, of course, but it wasn't the sixties and he didn't have a role. Conversely, that would have meant Owsley could be spared to work on the record. Thus the album was indeed "Bear's Choice," and I think there was only general approval from the band, with no direct input, so it really was Owsley's album.

Pipgen had died in March 1973. He had not performed with the band since June of 1972, but until the end of the year there may have been some residual hope that Pig could have gotten healthy and at least continued on as an occasional guest star. It was not to be, and Pigpen died while the Dead were on tour in the East. So it seemed appropriate that Bear's Choice became a tribute to their fallen comrade. Owsley had been their since the beginning, so he was an appropriate steward, even if it was strange to have the Acid King construct a tribute to the only family member who didn't like his product.

Owsley liked the blues and he liked folk music. Thus he took the tapes from the Fillmore East shows from February 13 and 14, 1970, and tried to give listeners a taste of what they missed with from those days, with a big focus on Pigpen. However, to a normal suburban listener like me, the album was completely devoid of context. There were four acoustic songs, one by Pigpen, a mournful "Black Peter" for the only original, an 18-minute "Smokestack Lightning," and a rocking but clunky version of Otis Redding's "Hard To Handle." Regular Dead material from those great concerts was entirely absent.

The acoustic material was fascinating, but mysterious, since there was only the faintest knowledge of Garcia's old-timey folk roots. And Weir singing an Everly Brothers song--had that been typical? The answer was "no," but how would I have known that? The slow, grinding "Smokestack" made sense in terms of a three hour show, but it made up most of side two and was kind of a drag to a teenager. Two years later I would get the Hollywood Palladium bootleg (August 6, 1971), and I could hear how "Hard To Handle" should really sound, but back in 1970 the Dead hadn't really figured out the arrangement yet.

Thus it appears that Owsley, given a free hand, and always his own man in any case, made his own tribute to Pigpen. With the knowledge of the Dead's music that we have today, it sort of makes sense: it featured some of the left-out corners of the Grateful Dead's music up until that time. Now we know that old-timey acoustic music, slow blues and psychedelic R&B covers were part of the Dead's broad pallette, but to my 15-year-old self it just seemed strange. I was enormously disappointed when Bear's Choice came out. So was everyone else, I think, because almost no one ever mentioned it again.

Dick's Picks Vol. 4, recorded Feb 13-14, 1970, released 1996
"The History Of The Grateful Dead, Vol 1"
The most tantalizing aspect of Bear's Choice was the actual title: "The History Of The Grateful Dead, Vol 1." It suggested that the album would be the first of many. In a way, it was, although the next installment was eighteen years later, with 1991's One From The Vault. Yet Bear's Choice shows us that the Dead had the idea to use their vault as a way to disseminate their music and provide some income far into the future, as long ago as the early 1970s. Granted, at the time, the Dead were competing with the presence of two almost-bootleg albums, Vintage Dead and Historic Dead, in MGM-Sunflower, both recorded in 1966, but Vintage in particular was a far catchier album than Bear's Choice.

I got excellent quality cassette recordings of the February 13-14, 1970 shows at the end of 1980. The music stunned me, of course, as I couldn't believe there was that much uninterrupted goodness out there to listen to. But it only made Bear's Choice more peculiar. With all that great music to choose from, why did Owsley pick the strange tracks that he did? If the Dead had ended their Warner Brothers run in '73 with an lp that featured Fillmore East performances of, say, "Dancing In The Streets" and "Alligator" (both from Feb 14 '70), it would have been another great seller. "Dancing" would have been all over FM radio, and the Dead's audience would be even bigger. But the Dead fell into the trap of sticking it to the record company, and turned in a purposely strange album that was bound to confuse all but a then-tiny number of old heads. 

The Golden Road Boxed Set, released 2003
Final Coda
Bear's Choice was rightly forgotten, soon after it was released, and it has remained an orphan ever since. The one real effect of the album was limiting the scope of Dick's Pick's Vol 4. Volume 4, released in 1996, featured the relatively widely circulated Feb 13-14 '70 show at its finest. Yet the Bear's Choice tracks needed to be excluded, for contractual reasons. Now, granted, DP4 was already a three-cd set and anyone could make their own custom mix tape of the complete show, but the acoustic songs might have made a good addition and they had to be left off.

When Bear's Choice was released as part of the 12-cd Golden Road boxed set, a few additional tracks were included.

Bonus tracks on 2003 expanded CD release, all live recordings from Feb 1970;
  • Good Lovin' - February 13, 1970 at Fillmore East, New York, NY
  • Big Boss Man - February 5, 1970 at Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA
  • Smokestack Lightnin' - February 8, 1970 at Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA
  • Sitting On Top Of The World - February 8, 1970 at Fillmore West, San Francisco, CA
While additional live material from the Dead is always welcome, these seem to be a particularly random assortment of selections. "Sitting On Top Of The World" from 1970 was a rarity, but was another "Smokestack" called for? No matter. Bear's Choice was a contractual obligation, and it was designed to be a quirky artifact that would spite the band's former record company. The final, strange bonus cuts were an appropriately head-scratching appendix to a strange release.

Appendix: Grateful Dead/Warner Brothers Record Contracts
The Grateful Dead signed a three-album deal with Joe Smith of Warner Brothers in December 1966. If it was a typical contract of that era, Warners would have had an option for an additional album or two under the same terms.
The Grateful Dead (March 1967)
Anthem Of The Sun (July 1968)
Aoxomoxoa (June 1969)
Live/Dead (November 1969) While the Dead were touring in mid-69, Lenny Hart negotiated an extension with Warners. I don't know which contract Live/Dead was assigned to, but that was probably part of the negotiation. My assumption is that Live/Dead was considered a record company option on the original deal.

The Workingman's Dead (June 1970) I'm assuming that Workingman's was the first album of a five-album deal with an option for two more.
American Beauty (December 1970)
Grateful Dead [Skull & Roses] (September 1971) This double album was presumably considered one album, a conventional arrangement that would have been negotiated between Warners and the Dead.
Garcia (January 1972) It was conventional practice in the 70s for the "main" players in any popular band to be offered a solo album, though a "Key Man" clause. From Warners' point of view, they didn't care whether Jerry Garcia or the Grateful Dead were the ones with a hit. Now, Garcia could not have recorded a solo album with anyone other than Warners, but he might have negotiated a separate deal. If he did, then it would follow that Live/Dead was part of the second deal, not the original one.
Ace (March 1972) I know that Ace was recorded as part of the Warners deal, and was considered a Grateful Dead album for contractual purposes. Warners probably figured that they had a good chance of making a genuine rock star out of Weir.
Europe '72 (November 1972) The Dead told Warners at the end of '72 that they had no intention of renewing their contract, and told Clive Davis and Columbia they weren't signing with them either, but rather going independent. Double live albums were pretty common, but Europe '72 was a triple album, and the band's last release had been a live album as well. One way or another, the Dead had delivered six albums on the Warners contract, so they still owed a final album.
The History Of The Grateful Dead, Vol.1 Bear's Choice (July 1973) Although the Dead had left Warners by mid-73, they could not have released an album on their own label without having fulfilled their Warners contract.

The Dead put out two albums independently (Wake Of The Flood and Mars Hotel), as well as some solo material on Round. They then signed a distribution deal with United Artists, where they owed four Dead albums and Garcia and Weir solo albums. These obligations were only partially fulfilled, with two Dead albums, one a double (Blues For Allah and Steal Your Face), Reflections and Kingfish (which would have counted as the Weir album).

I do not know the structure of the Dead's 1976 contract with Arista. However, by that time the group was established and both the Dead and Arista knew what they were getting into. The royalties and other factors with releasing the inevitable double live albums were probably written into the contract from the beginning. The deal that was not fulfilled until In The Dark was completed in 1987, which was the sixth Grateful Dead album on Arista. Possibly the two Garcia solo albums and Heaven Help The Fool were part of the obligation as well, or maybe they were contracted separately. After that time, the Dead had an agreement with Arista, but it was basically an album-to-album deal, and Garcia himself was free to record for anybody.

Update 
Appendix 2: The Dead on Bear's Choice
Fellow scholar LightIntoAshes comes up with some contemporary quotes from the band, from Cameron Crowe articles
Cameron Crowe talked to Garcia & others for a couple of illuminating articles in 1973-74: "Rather than choose the usual 'greatest hits' packaging, for their final [Warners] album commitment, The Dead dispatched production manager Owsley 'The Bear' Stanley to rummage through his collection of live tapes to find a unique performance LP with which to bow out... 'It’s a side of the group that never went on record,' says Jerry in retrospect... 'It shows a Dead you’ll never see or hear again,' Rock [Scully] picks up the story. 'The album is sixty percent Pigpen and the other forty percent is acoustic material. Needless to say, Pigpen is no longer with us and The Dead don’t do acoustic material onstage anymore. The record is very, very interesting if you know the history behind it.'" {from Circus Magazine, October 1973 issue) 
But a later article revealed that the Dead themselves were "ambivalent at best" about the album: "Weir is upset about the inclusion of a flat 'Wake Up Little Susie' duet with Jerry. Garcia could care less about the whole thing. When handed his first copy of the album, he mumbled something about it having a less-than-stellar cover and didn’t even bother taking it home. 'We had to give that record to Warner Brothers,' says Jerry... 'We weren’t contracted for it originally, but we had [to] give it to them in order to make Europe ’72 a triple-LP. We could have been cut loose if we gave them two single records, rather than one triple album. We ended up giving them four discs instead of just two just to be able to go to Europe...'As far as I’m concerned, it’s something we owe them. I’m not interested in making Warner Brothers any richer. In a way, I’m glad it’s a low-profile, non-success record. It just means there won’t be any more energy going to WB via us. The music is what it is, us in early 1970... The stuff we were doing at the time never got onto any of our records before now. I might not like it, but I played it. If they were no good, it’s too late to take those notes back.{from Creem Magazine, January 1974 issue}

Friday, August 14, 2015

Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia Landmark Guide: Oakland


The Oakland Auditorium in 1917, two years after it was built
The Grateful Dead are correctly known as the archetypal San Francisco band. Their roots were in Palo Alto, even if nearby Menlo Park had just as much of a claim to them. As the Dead turned into a national act, a good claim could be made for Manhattan having made them giant, with some help from Jersey City and Brooklyn. As they toured the country year after year, certain venues became legendary: Boston Garden, Red Rocks or whatever your favorite stop might have been.

However, in the annals of Grateful Dead history, Oakland gets no love. This is unfair, since some of the most critical venues in the Grateful Dead's regular schedule were in Oakland. On top of that, the city's proximity to Marin and San Francisco meant that all sorts of oddball one-off events took place there as well. This post will try and raise the city's profile in Dead history by looking at the locations and histories of some places in Oakland that played a part in the band's story.


The Oakland Auditorium from the North and East, with Lake Merritt in the foreground, exact date of the picture unknown
Oakland Auditorium Arena, 10 Tenth Street (at Oak), Oakland, CA 94607
later known as: Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center
First Grateful Dead show: June 28, 1967
Last Grateful Dead show: February 7, 1989 (58 shows)
Also: Jerry Garcia Band (first Oct 31 '86, last Nov 11 '94-5 shows)

The history of the Grateful Dead in Oakland has to begin with the Oakland Auditorium, later known as the Henry J. Kaiser Auditorium. The auditorium was built in 1915, and it was host to many performers over the years, including Elvis Presley and James Brown. The Dead even played there as far back as 1967 and 1971. However, starting in 1979, after Winterland had closed, the old Auditorium became the Grateful Dead's home court. In the early 80s, when the Dead seemed like dinosaurs and they were not yet iconic, seeing shows at 10th and Oak was like a gathering of the tribe, all the more important when we had no other way to meet. The New Year's runs were also a prime opportunity to get a taste of the Dead on the West Coast, so the impact of the Auditorium went far beyond the Bay Area.

The Dead simply sized out of the Kaiser in 1989, after "Touch Of Gray" made shows there unmanageable. The little vending scene on the lawn outside the arena, officially sanctioned by BGP, had simply gotten too large, and the demand for tickets was too great. By the time of the last Dead show at Kaiser, the Dead were already playing bigger places. Yet the Kaiser stands as the symbol of the Brent era, when the Dead were a self-sustaining artifact, defying logic and good sense.

After the Dead's departure, there wasn't really a good role for the building. A new, more efficient convention center was built downtown, and the Kaiser was in that place where it was always too big or too small, but never just right. After losing money for years, the building was finally closed by the Oakland. It is still standing, but no one can decide what to do with it. In June 2015, the Golden State Warriors victory parade ended at the Kaiser, and the little lawn outside the Auditorium was filled with far more people (and vendors) than were ever in Shakedown Street. The building awaits a miracle ticket for its redemption.


In 2015, the Golden State Warriors won the NBA title for the first time since Blues For Allah, and a huge crowd gathered outside the old Auditorium  (at left) for one last hurrah. By all reports, vending was rampant.



Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena, 7000 Coliseum Way, Oakland, CA 94621
replaced by: Oracle Arena (re-opened 1997)
First Grateful Dead show: February 17, 1979
Last Grateful Dead show: February 26, 1995 (66 shows)
Also: Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir, Dec 4 '88 (Bridge Concert), Jerry Garcia Band Oct 31 '92

Ask a veteran Deadhead, perhaps yourself: what building did the Grateful Dead play the most? Go ahead, look it up on Deadlists. The Fillmore East (43 shows)? The original Fillmore Auditorium (51)? Madison Square Garden (52)? The Philadelphia Spectrum (53)? Winterland (60)? 1545 Market Street, the location of both the Carousel Ballroom (16) and Fillmore West (46--total=62)?

What building did the Grateful Dead play most often? The answer turns out to be the mostly unloved Oakland Coliseum Arena, which the Grateful Dead played 66 times between 1979 and 1995. The Coliseum complex, with the indoor arena and the outdoor stadium, was built in 1966 to house the Oakland Raiders and tempt the (at the time) San Francisco Warriors and Kansas City Athletics. It did just that. No one really loved the Coliseum, but it had and has a spectacularly central location, right off Highway 880. It had its own BART stop, it was near the Airport, you could get there easily from every county, but it was just sort of--there.

As a result, the 15,000+-capacity Coliseum Arena was the prime spot for top rock acts in the Bay Area from the late 60s through the 90s. Initially, the Arena was too big for rock acts, but when bands like Cream, Blind Faith and the Rolling Stones had their most famous tours, the Coliseum was not only the biggest venue, but also the best located. Thus the roster of bands that have played the Coliseum Arena is like a Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction list. Even when Shoreline Amphitheatre came along in 1986 and superseded the Coliseum as the flagship Bay Area venue, the Coliseum still handled all the Fall and Winter shows, so everybody still played the venue regularly.

Most long-tenured Deadheads, myself included, have seen some Dead shows at the Arena. Some of them were pretty good, too. But they don't have the sense of place that the Oakland Auditorium had. Maybe it was the size, or the nondescript architecture of the building. Maybe it was just because I went to the Coliseum so many times, and have so many great memories, that the Dead are just one of many (Back in the early 80s, I saw 6'4 Adrian Dantley of the Utah Jazz drop 46 on the Warriors one night, mostly from the paint, and it was a thing to behold. Come to think of it, I saw Swen Nater do the same--don't get me started on Joe Barry Carroll's defense. Which just shows you that I don't even think of the Dead first at the Coliseum). There were actually a number of social connections between the Grateful Dead and the popular but usually underperforming Golden State Warriors. The most famous of these was the Dead's contributions to the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic Team (captured in the movie The Other Dream Team).

After the 1996-97 NBA season, the Coliseum Arena was fully remodeled into a much larger configuration, and now can seat just over 20,000 for basketball. It is currently known as the Oracle Arena, and remains the home of the unexpectedly mighty Golden State Warriors.

Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Stadium, 7000 Coliseum Way, Oakland, CA 94621
now: O.co Coliseum
First Grateful Dead show: June 8, 1974
Last Grateful Dead show: May 27, 1989 (5 shows)
Also: Bob Weir and Kingfish (June 29, 1975, opening for Doobie Bros/Eagles), and Nelson Mandela (June 30 '90, Mickey Hart part of drum procession)

The Oakland Coliseum Stadium shares a parking lot with the indoor basketball arena. It was part of the thrust for "multi-use" stadiums that were popular in the 1970s. As such, it housed both the Raiders (since 1966) and the A's (since 1968). Amazingly, it still does. What was once a gleaming new cement palace that was superior to cold Candlestick across the bay is now a rundown block that pales before PacBell Park or Levi's Stadium. The strange departure and return of the Raiders caused new centerfield bleachers (known colloquially as "Mt Davis") to be constructed, ruining the pleasant view of the Oakland hills. Nonetheless, the stadium perseveres, even if its tenants perpetually threaten to move.

The Coliseum Stadium was the primary spot for most of the huge outdoor rock shows in the Bay Area in the 20th century, save for the Beatles appearance at Candlestick (August 29 1966), which preceded the stadium. The few subsequent Candlestick rock concerts were only held there, grudgingly, because the A's or Raiders had prior bookings at the Coliseum,

The Dead played five shows at the Stadium, all pretty legendary. They headlined over The Beach Boys on June 8, 1974, they were double-billed with The Who on October 9-10, 1976, they played with Bob Dylan on July 24, 1987 and they headlined over John Fogerty (who was backed by Jerry and Bob, among others) on May 27, 1989. It's kind of like the A's: the Coliseum itself isn't that memorable, but what happened there remains etched in your mind long after you have departed.

Oakland Exposition Center, 9th and Fallon Streets, Oakland, CA 94607
I am pursuing some very tenuous leads to a Grateful Dead performance in early 1967 at the Oakland Exposition Center. The Exposition Center was at 9th and Fallon, and was an all-purpose civic auditorium, used for trade shows, roller derbies, midget car races and all sorts of other things. It was torn down for the California Museum, which opened in 1969. Since I can't confirm the show yet, I am only provisionally including this reference for completism, and of course hoping someone knows something.
This photo from the Dunsmuir House shows a costume event (set in the '20s), but that's not why its misleading. Although the estate looks beautiful here, the photo does not do it justice and the estate grounds are even more engaging.
Dunsmuir House And Gardens2960 Peralta Oaks Court, Oakland, CA 94605
August 18, 1985: Jerry Garcia and John Kahn/Ron Price


Dunsmuir House was built in 1878 by Alexander Dunsmuir. Later it was purchasedby Isaias Hellmann (1842-1920), one of the principal financial architects of Los Angeles, and from 1906 onwards, also the chairman of Wells Fargo Bank. Hellman's great-grandson was Warren Hellman, who among many other things was the founder of the wonderful Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in San Francisco. Isaias Hellman owned Dunsmuir House until his death in 1920, and afterwards the grounds were ultimately passed to the city of Oakland. Nestled in the Oakland foothills, calling Dunsmuir "beautiful" does the estate a disservice.


The City of Oakland has never been able to figure out what to do with the estate, other than rent it out for the occasional wedding. BGP briefly tried putting on concerts there. Jerry Garcia and John Kahn played a show on August 18, 1985, and they didn't play that well, but honestly, it didn't matter. The setting was so spectacular and the weather so perfect that Jerry and John were just sort of present. I'm sure the tape is lousy--so what, you should have been there. If you get invited to a wedding at the estate, go to it even if you don't like the bride and groom.

The Omni, 4799 Shattuck Avenue, Oakland, CA
Ligure Hall was built in the 1930s at 48th St and Shattuck Avenue as an Italian-American social club. However, the Grove-Shafter Freeway changed the neighborhood, and many of the club members moved away. The hall was used for a few rock shows in the 1960s, but it never caught on. In 1985, the Hall was acquired by John Nady, who had made a fortune with wireless guitar pickups. He opened a rock nightclub called The Omni. The Omni featured many metal bands, as well as groups on their way down.

Nonetheless, on December 19, 1986 Go Ahead played The Omni. Go Ahead was a spin-off band that included Brent Mydland and Bill Kreutzmann (along with Alex Ligterwood, Jerry Cortez and David Margen). They had toured around a fair amount in 1986 when it wasn't clear at all that Garcia would return to action. By December, the Dead had already performed, but Go Ahead played their Omni date anyway. According to Joel Selvin, Garcia even showed up to hang out, although he did not play. A commenter on another post said
Jerry did show up at the Go Ahead concert with a lady friend from the Hog Farm and took a table right on the dancefloor -- it was amazing to come back to the ballroom from the bar before the show and find him sitting there. He was plainly in good spirits and was pleasant to people who went up and said hi but people gave him plenty of space -- a very hip crowd. And a great show. 
On Halloween, 1987, The Tubes played The Omni. The once-mighty Tubes were very much on the downslide, but Vince Welnick was still the keyboard player at the time. John Nady ended up purchasing The Stone around 1988, but The Stone closed in 1990 or so, and The Omni shut down in 1992. The building is now a private residence, only used for occasional public events.

Scottish Rites Temple, 1547 Lakeside Drive, Oakland, CA, 94612
July 3, 1991: AIDS Conference; Bob Weir

The Freemasons had established an organization in Oakland in 1883. They had had a number of buildings for their headquarters, but the current one was started in 1925 and finished in 1927. It is on the Northern side of Lake Merritt, near Grand Avenue, at 1547 Lakeside. Masonic Temples were a common feature of American cities in the early 20th century, and indeed many legendary psychedelic ballrooms were re-purposed Scottish Rites Temples, including the Avalon. The Oakland temple (the Masons are not a religion, but they call their meeting halls "temples") is still local headquarters for the Masons, but the building is available for rent as well.

On July 3, 1991, there was an Oakland AIDs conference, back when that was still a meaningful political act, as opposed to simply a medical colloquium. Bob Weir appeared at the conference, I believe performing a few songs solo as part of some opening or closing ceremony.

Owsley's House, 6024 Ascot Drive, Oakland, CA, 94611
The story and location of this house used to be a bit of a secret, but I guess now that it is part of the real estate pitch, it's fair to talk about it. Oakland first became a great city in 1869, when for geographical reasons it became the terminus of the first Transcontinental Railway. Trains all arrived in Oakland because they could not really arrive in San Francisco, so people and goods in great number went to Oakland before they crossed the bay, and the city thrived accordingly. The beautiful Oakland hills, relatively far from downtown, were for the wealthy estates of the Bay Area's rich.

The second major boost to Oakland came after the 1906 earthquake, when many San Francisco residents were evacuated to Oakland to avoid the raging fires. Many of them stayed, and so Oakland boomed again after 1906, along with San Francisco. Once the automobile was generally available, the Oakland hills became accessible to more than the super-wealthy. Of course, those who lived in the Oakland hills were still pretty well off, in that they had large properties with spectacular views that were only accessible by then-exotic automobiles, but the civilization of the Oakland hills was underway.

The arrival of the Bay Bridge changed the economic underpinning of Oakland, although that was muted somewhat by the explosion of shipbuilding during World War 2 (which itself was excellent for Bay Area music, by the way). The mid 1950s also saw the relative demise of rail transportation, in favor of trucks (and later jet planes), so that by the 1960s Oakland was somewhat fading in importance. As a result, houses in the Oakland hills were often available at surprisingly reasonable prices, if you didn't mind the windy roads and the distance from the freeway (I-580 had not yet been built).

In her recent book Owsley And Me: My LSD Family, Rhoney Gissen describes the house at 6024 Ascot Drive in some detail. Originally it was rented by Ali Akbar Khan school of music. Rhoney writes
Indian music gave me clarity, so I drove to the Ali Akbar Khan School Of Music, situated in a beautiful Spanish-style multilevel house with arts-and-crafts detailing in the secluded hills of Oakland, southeast of Berkeley. While I was listening to a morning raga played by Khansahib with Vince Delgado on tabla, it occurred to me that this place would be perfect for Bear. With all the rooms and levels, he could live here with any member of the Grateful Dead family. Ramrod had already agreed to live with Bear when he moved [p166]
Since the School was moving at month's end, Owsley was intrigued enough to visit:
We walked around the house and there was a swimming pool and a separate entrance in the back. Stately trees reached beyond the third floor. We went back inside which was atop a long stairway from the front door.
"Look, Bear, I can stand at the top of the stair and see who's coming."
"Yes, but you can't see the front door from any of the windows." [p.167]
Bear eventually agrees, and Rhoney gets Bear to let Ali Akhbar Khan and his students to open for the Grateful Dead in Berkeley (at the Berkeley Community Theater on September 20, 1968) in return for letting Owsley take over the lease.
At the end of the Summer of 1968, when the Indian musicians moved out of the house in the Oakland hills, Bear moved in. Betty and Bob Matthews took the downstairs apartment, and Ramrod moved into the bedroom next to Bear's. Weir camped out in the living room. [p168]
It is part of the oddness of Owsley that when the Dead left the Haight to move to Marin, he moved to the secluded Oakland hills. In order to get to either the Dead's Novato warehouse or any of the San Francisco venues, Owsley had to take a long drive in his convertible sportscar (I believe a Porsche 356), but that was part of his mystery. According to an unreliable anonymous memoir I read, Owsley had business interests at a rug shop on Alcatraz Avenue in Berkeley, and perhaps he wanted to be nearby.

Owsley lived in the Ascot Drive house until his incarceration in July of 1970. The Ali Akbar Khan School of Music moved to San Rafael, and seems to be still going strong. The house at 6024 Ascot Drive, once the Acid King's secret hideaway, is now just another nice house with a lovely view and a colorful past.

The Arbor Villa Palm Trees on 9th Avenue between E. 24th and E. 28th Street are sort of near Lake Merritt, but are only included here because I wanted to use a picture of them. They have nothing to do with the Grateful Dead. They were planted in 1890, and originally lined the Eastern edge of Francis "Borax" Smith's estate.
Grateful Dead Historical Research Quadrangle
Aside from actual places where the Grateful Dead and its members have performed, like any phenomenon, there are odd little loci where certain aspects of Grateful Dead culture have thrived. One of those is Brooklyn, New York, where the Dead rarely played but was nonetheless critical to the rise of taping culture, but that is a topic for another book that someone else will be writing. However, from the 1980s onwards there has been some serious research into the nature and history of The Grateful Dead, and much of that research forms an approximate square around Lake Merritt.

Lake Merritt is a large tidal lagoon in the center of the city of Oakland. It was originally surrounded by wetlands, but by the late 19th century the inflow and outflow of water was carefully managed. Nonetheless, one of the many unique things about Oakland is that it has a huge (the circumference is 3.4 miles) wildlife refuge right next to downtown. The Oakland Auditorium anchors the Southwestern edge of the lake, and that alone would make it memorable in Dead history. However, the other three sides of the quadtangle have a place as well.

In the 1980s, the magazine Golden Road, produced by Blair Jackson and Regan McMahon, set the standard for Grateful Dead scholarship. It was the first publication that did serious, accurate journalism on the Dead while still having an enthusiasts' perspective, and it remains a touchstone for anyone interested in the band at the time and today. The Golden Road was produced on the Eastern edge of Lake Merritt, pretty near Leaning Tower Of Pizza.

Later in the 1980s, and into the 90s, before the Internet became a thing, David Gans' Deadhead Hour became syndicated nationwide. Thus any aspiring Dead fan could get cool tapes, and not need to meet a guy whose brother knew a guy who knew a dude who bought some reel-to-reels at a flea market (which is sort of how I got Providence Sep 15 '73, but that's a digression). Anyone with an FM radio and a patch cord could get a pretty cool Dead tape every week, and so the Grateful Dead slowly infiltrated the land, one suburban bedroom at a time. Deadhead Hour World Headquarters was (and remains) at the Northeastern corner of Lake Merritt.

Lost Live Dead remained just an idea for the 20th century, although the occasional whiff could be found in Golden Road or Deadbase VII. Nonetheless, a significant part of the research for the blog was done near the Northern part of Lake Merritt, on both sides of Highway 580. Now the Kaiser is closed, Golden Road is a memory, the Oakland Coliseum has long since been replaced, and Lost Live Dead is produced in virtual space, far to the East of Grand Avenue.

Oakland perseveres, however, its fortune made by being the terminus of the first Transcontinental railroad, and then narrowed by the Bay Bridge. Yet the city's importance in American history and Grateful Dead history remains undiminished by time. The Golden State Warriors bought a title back to Oakland in 2015, 40 years after their last one, and 26 years after any other Oakland team, so everything remains possible.


The Henry J. Kaiser Convention center ca. 2013, fenced off and unused, hoping for a Miracle Ticket [from Oakland Scene]