Round Records was basically Jerry Garcia's label, in partnership with the Dead's manager Ron Rakow, as Garcia and Rakow had a far larger appetite for the risk of the record business than the other members of the Dead. It is my proposition, however, that if Round Records would have had a future, it would have looked a lot more like Pistol Packin' Mama than, say, Reflections (Round RX-107) or Kingfish (RX-108). I think Garcia wanted to release music that he liked on a cost-efficient basis, playing whatever role he needed to play, whether guitarist or just producer. As had happened many times in the 1970s, the Garcia and the Dead had started the train rolling before the track was complete. This post will sort out the peculiar backstory of the Good Old Boys and the strange history of the release on Round Records, as well as raising some intriguing mysteries about Garcia's participation.
|The back cover to Pistol Packin' Mama by The Good Old Boys, released as Round Records RX-109 (distributed by United Artists) in March 1976. Producer Jerry Garcia's photo is inset on the back.|
The historic confusion of Pistol Packin' Mama stems from the perpetually confused financial condition of Round Records. The album was released in March 1976, a year after the Old And In The Way album was released, and some time after Garcia was known to have played banjo in public. Yet in fact the album had been recorded in January 1975, and it was linked to several other Garcia projects, including the Great American String Band. Garcia had even played banjo on stage with the Good Old Boys, and may have done so more than once. Yet no one knew that in 1976.
In 1976, Round had gotten a cash infusion from United Artists in order to produce and distribute the forthcoming Steal Your Face double-lp. Along with relatively conventional rock releases, Round released some fairly quixotic projects. In fact, these projects had been underway for years, but record buyers had little inkling of that. Prior to Pistol Packin' Mama, the last Round release, Seastones (RX-106) had been back in April 1975, and it had been the decidedly uncommercial electronic musical work of Ned Lagin (although billed as a Phil Lesh project at UA's insistence). After the Blues For Allah release in September 1975, Round came out with four albums the next Spring. Two were typical rock releases, Garcia's new solo album Reflections and the Kingfish album. The other two, however, were Mickey Hart's Diga project (RX-110), an unprecedented world music all-percussion ensemble , as well as the bluegrass album featuring a member of the New Riders and some players unknown to hippie rock fans. No live performances supported either release. By May '76, the Dead had announced their new tour, Round Records was done for, and all discussion of the label's lesser releases were forgotten.
|The Greenbriar Boys album was released on Vanguard Records in 1962|
The importance of Frank Wakefield has its roots deep inside David Nelson and Jerry Garcia's love of bluegrass. For young suburban musicians who learned about bluegrass from records, the music seemed like a cultural tradition that could only be mastered by those inside the tradition. The 60s question of whether "white men could sing the blues" was just as real a question to non-Southern bluegrass musicians who had learned about it from records. This was doubly true on the West Coast, because players like Nelson and Garcia had no local bluegrass tradition to learn from. Bluegrass legends rarely played the Bay Area (compared to, say, Cambridge, MA or Greenwich Village). The Greenbriar Boys were the first group that told the Garcias and Nelsons of America that they didn't have to come from some Kentucky hillside if they wanted to play bluegrass.
The Greenbriar Boys were formed in 1959 in Washington Square Park, a "holler" of sorts, to the extent that a holler on 10th Street and 5th Avenue that is within walking distance to the 1, 2, N, Q and R subway lines, not to mention the PATH, can be called a local community, but that it was. The players were all New Yorkers. The band's first album was released on 1962 on Vanguard Records, and it was the first indication that "Northerners" could play authentic bluegrass. For the likes of Nelson and Garcia, it set them free. The Greenbriar Boys were from New York and New Jersey, not the South, and they inspired suburban bluegrass pickers everywhere with the idea that bluegrass could be learned, even if you weren't born to it. Supposedly, a promotional photo for the Black Mountain Boys was posed identically to The Greenbriar Boys, as an homage.
By the early 60s, the members of The Greenbriar Boys were John Herald (guitar), Bob Yellin (banjo) and Ralph Rinzler (mandolin). Rinzler, among many other things, had introduced his teenage neighbor in Hackensack, NJ, young David Grisman, to the bluegrass mandolin. By 1966, Rinzler had left to work at the Smithsonian Institute, and his place had been taken by mandolinist Frank Wakefield. Wakefield was on the fourth and final Greenbriar Boys album, Better Late Than Never (Vanguard 1966). This, too, was a benediction: Wakefield was a certified bluegrass legend himself, and when he joined The Greenbriar Boys, it showed that Northern city kids and Southern pickers could all make bluegrass together.
Frank Wakefield had joined the Greenbriar Boys in 1965. Although not famous outside of bluegrass circles, he was already a mandolin legend (age 31) at that time. David Grisman's unforgettable quote about Wakefield sums it up: "he split the bluegrass mandolin atom. Some of us will never be the same again." Wakefield had been born in 1934 in Emory Gap, TN, but his family had moved to Dayton, OH, where he started performing in 1951. Throughout the 1950s, Wakefield toured with Jimmy Martin, The Stanley Brothers and others. He had joined Red Allen and The Kentuckians in 1958. Around 1960, he moved to Washington, DC with Allen and gave private lessons, including to a young David Grisman. Wakefield also played with New York Philharmonic ('67) and Boston Pops ('68). Wakefield began a solo career in 1970, and released his first solo album on Rounder in 1972. The Greenbriar Boys released four albums, the last in 1966, and toured up until 1970. The Greenbriar Boys broke up in 1970, but they apparently played occasionally anyway. Bluegrass groups aren't like rock bands, and can "reform" for a single gig in your living room, if they are so inclined.
The foundation of the Good Old Boys was at a fascinating but now cloudy event called The Golden State Country And Bluegrass Festival, produced by Judy Lammers at the Marin County Fairgrounds in San Rafael from April 26-28, 1974. The story is a dense and complicated one, and only JGMF has attempted to do it justice, but it is complex reading. Briefly, although bluegrass was never a lucrative promotional vehicle, Judy Lammers and her husband produced a festival with many of the major stars of bluegrass at the time. The show also featured a momentary reformation of Old And In The Way--this is how bluegrass works--and that has swallowed up the history of festival itself. A famous photo of Jerry Garcia, John McEuen and Steve Martin playing banjos has drowned any other mention of the festival. The GSCBF was a remarkable event in many ways, but I am going to focus on one aspect that JGMF could simply not get to, namely the formation of the Good Old Boys by David Nelson and Frank Wakefield, and Jerry Garcia's prominent and yet unexplored role.
Bluegrass Festivals, even at the highest level of musicianship, are characterized by musicians hanging out and picking together, showing off their chops and sharing licks. It's acoustic music, so no one has to wait for a roadie. The classic bluegrass material is widely known, so any bluegrass picker who can't join in on "Wheel Hoss" at the count of four ain't much of a picker. Old friendships are renewed, new ones are made, and the real players find out whatever other gunslingers are in town. The Good Old Boys got their start at the Marin Fairgrounds, probably backstage picking. David Nelson explained in a 1976 issue of Dead Relix (Vol. 3, #1 quoted JGBP via JGMF):
D.R.: When did the Good Ol’ Boys begin?Whether Wakefield and Nelson actually performed together at the Festival isn't clear to me, but it doesn't matter, since they were playing live a week later. In any case, Garcia (and Vassar) sat in with Wakefield and the Greenbriar Boys, which probably meant a lot to Garcia. Wakefield very likely had little idea who Garcia was.
Dave: It started at the Vassar Clements California Bluegrass Festival, put on by Judy Lammers, at the Marin County Fairgrounds. The real biggies that were there were Jim and Jesse McReynolds, the Virginia Boys, Frank Wakefield, Vasser, Doc Watson, Ralph Stanley, Jimmy Martin, Maria Muhdaur, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Doug Dillard.
|An ad for the Keystone Berkeley for the week of May 5, 1974 from the Oakland Tribune of the same date. The Great American String Band headlined on Sunday May 5, and The Good Old Boys opened the show|
Although the Keystone Berkeley was hardly a bluegrass venue, bluegrass is lively music that can be improved by beer. In any case, Jerry Garcia had played many a weeknight with Old And In The Way, and on a Sunday night, the Keystone always enjoyed having Jerry in any format. To the extent this show is noticed at all, it is because it is a very early iteration of the Great American String Band, the "new acoustic" ensemble that featured Garcia, Richard Greene, David Grisman, guitarist David Nichtern and various friends. The Good Old Boys opener is known from other listings.
No tape or eyewitness account circulated about this show, until a comment popped up on a post I wrote about a 1974 Peter Rowan demo session. An anonymous Commenter wrote
I saw Great American String Band show at the Keystone on May 5, 1974 and can attest to the fact that Peter Rowan and Jack Bonus were brought out for two songs - Midnight Moonlight and Hobo Song and the show was recorded professionally for what folks at the gig were hearing would be a future album. Gee, didn't get it until now that I might have actually seen Peter play with Jerry for the last time together (and it was my ONLY time with that privilege). Interestingly, considering it was recorded with studio mikes onstage, I am surprised that a recording of this concert with these two songs with Rowan and Bonus has not surfaced (and have not heard of anyone else acknowledging that they showed up at this gig).So we know from this Comment that there are unheard, professionally mic'd tapes of a lost GASB show at Keystone Berkeley, including guest appearances by Peter Rowan and Jack Bonus (he wrote "Hobo Song" and recorded on Grunt Records). What's more intriguing is what I think is the likelihood that there was a recording of The Good Old Boys with Wakefield and Nelson, and that Garcia played banjo.
Let me respond to the obvious question first: how could the entire Grateful Dead community have missed a Jerry Garcia banjo appearance with David Nelson at the Keystone Berkeley? There are two critical points to make here:
- Very few people probably actually saw the Good Old Boys. The Keystone Berkeley had no reserved seats, and you often ended up standing anyway (depending on what year we are talking about). So if you weren't planning to get there early, it made more sense to get there right before the headliner came on. There is a listing for The Good Old Boys opening, but all sorts of unknown local bands opened at Keystone Berkeley, and most locals just skipped them. There was no indication of who The Good Old Boys might have been, so few would have shown up early.
- Seeing Jerry Garcia at the Keystone Berkeley just wasn't that big a deal back in '74. So for those who were there, even if they saw Jerry play with the Good Old Boys, they were going to see him play banjo with another group an hour later. We don't have any other eyewitness account of the GASB show, which honestly is typical of the era, and they just don't recall. I am hoping this post will jolt some long-dormant memories.
In 1975 David Nelson, Don Reno, Chubby Wise, and Jerry Garcia made an album out in California. That record sort of came about on the spur of the moment. I was out in Marin County, in Northern California staying at David Nelson's house and doing shows with his band, The New Riders Of The Purple Sage. Me and David... and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, were also doing some shows together. When we did shows David would play guitar and Jerry played banjo.
Whenever Garcia played with me and David, we would always have a full house. I thought it was because of me. I never had heard of Garcia or the Grateful Dead before. It took me a while to realize that people were coming to the shows because Jerry was playing with us. When we played shows together we played acoustic. I didn't know any of the Grateful Dead's music and the fact is I still don't. The audience that was coming to see us was mostly Grateful Dead fans. Most of them had never heard Bluegrass music before, but they really loved it when they heard it.The site was run by bluegrass fiddler Jim Moss, who played with Wakefield (and everyone else, of course) many times. On the site, Moss recalls "Jerry Garcia actually was a member of the Good Ol' Boys on several occasions. I have heard the live tapes from at least one of these shows." So we have confirmation that Garcia played with Wakefield and Nelson more than once, and that at least one was taped.
In the midst of Garcia's acoustic gigs, the Grateful Dead headlined a baseball stadium show with the Beach Boys. I have written about it at great length, and you can see the whole story here. The New Riders came on stage about noon that day, and they were joined by Wakefield for one song, Red Allen's "Teardrops In My Eyes," which the Riders had recorded on Panama Red. Wakefield's appearance at the Coliseum definitely puts him in town at the time, and it lends some color to Wakefield's explanation of the Good Old Boys album, which seems mildly exaggerated, as we will see below.
|The June 9, 1974 Oakland Tribue Keystone Berkeley ad shows the Great American String Band playing June 13 and 14 (Thursday and Friday) "plus--The Good Ol' Boys."|
The Great American String Band played two nights at Keystone Berkeley, following a Wednesday night show (June 12) at the Lion's Share. Tapes of the GASB sets circulate for both nights at the Keystone (JGMF has the whole story, of course), but there is silence on The Good Old Boys. Few people may have been there for their set, and since regular tapers made Keystone GASB tapes, I have to assume if they were present they would have taped Jerry with The Good Old Boys. However, this does not exclude the possibility that the shows were recorded by Round for possible release, per the description of the May 5 show. Jim Moss heard some tape, and there was apparently more than one tape, so three Keystone shows make good sense.
In June of 1974, Grateful Dead Records was still riding pretty high. The Dead were selling out to record crowds throughout the country, they were about to release their second album on their own label, and Round had just released new albums by both Garcia and Robert Hunter. Sure, now we all know what was happening--The Wall Of Sound sucked up any excess cash, Mars Hotel wasn't really a hit (nor was Compliments Of Garcia) and that doesn't even count the forthcoming debacle of spending $100,000-plus that the band didn't have on filming their retirement. But it didn't look that way in the Summer of '74.
There's plenty of evidence that Garcia was at least contemplating all sorts of releases, like a live Garcia/Saunders album that might have followed the Fantasy album. There were plans afoot for an Old And In The Way album, a Keith And Donna album, something involving Seastones and no doubt other ideas. The record companies all had stars in their eyes at the time, and there were no "Indies" putting out well-recorded music in the hopes of a modest profit. Bluegrass was barely being recorded, with the East Coast label Rounder Records being about the only option. If there was a Rounder, why not a Round? I think the Good Old Boys show were taped because Garcia and Nelson were thinking about a live album, similar to how Old And In The Way ended up getting released. What became of these tapes?
November 29, 1974 Academy Of Music, New York, NY: New Riders Of The Purple Sage/Good Ol' Boys
In the fall of '74, the New Riders of The Purple Sage played three nights at Manhattan's Academy Of Music as part of their East Coast tour. A Jerry Moore tape endures of a brief performance by the Good Old Boys, apparently opening the show. Along with Nelson and Wakefield, Riders' bassist Skip Battin joins in, along with a banjo player (Dave something--I couldn't quite catch it) and fiddler Kenny Kosek. Kenny Kosek was in an Ithaca, NY band called Country Comfort that had backed Wakefield on his first Rounder solo album in 1972. Sharp-eyed fans may recall that just 13 years later, Kosek ended up playing with Nelson and Garcia in the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band. Waylon Jennings may have also been on the bill.
At the Academy, the Good Old Boys play 27 minutes. The group does seven tunes. John "Marmaduke" Dawson comes out to sing the bluegrass classic "Live And Let Live." I don't know if Good Old Boys opened the other two shows (Nov 27 and 28). Nelson introduces Wakefield as "the Evel Kneivel of bluegrass."
Wakefield picks up the story:
The way the Pistol Packin' Mama album came about was me and David were sitting around talking when I told David I'd like to do a record of me and him with Don Reno and Chubby Wise. First, David thought I was kidding. When he realized that I was serious he said, "Boy, I would love too, but that you could never get to talk to people like Don Reno and Chubby Wise". I had already recorded with Don and Chubby back in 1959, so I said to David, "Why don't we call them, but first lets go talk to Ron Rakow." Rakow was the fella who ran Round Records, the Grateful Dead's record company. So we went over to Ron's office to talk to him and he was really interested after I told him that Chubby and Don were some of the original people in Bluegrass. Ron had actually never heard of them. Ron asked me how much I thought it would cost to do the record. I said, "Oh,maybe three or four hundred dollars." David looked at me kinda funny and said "Frank, it will cost more than that". Then Ron Rakow said, "You'd have to have at least five thousand to start off with." That sounded good to me so I said, "Well, I ain't gonna argue with that".Well, this is a pretty good story. Bluegrass legend plays with some young, admiring hippies, and agrees to make an album with his legendary bluegrass friends. Then, surprise--it turns out that the banjo player owns his own record company and can finance the whole thing! Good times. Now, to be clear, I'm sure Wakefield had no idea who the Grateful Dead were in 1974, and that when he first met Garcia backstage in Marin or at the Keystone, he had no idea who he was. Garcia, for a rock star, was notably self-effacing around other musicians, and Wakefield would not have been the only band member to play the Keystone Berkeley who did not realize that the crowd was there for Jerry.
Then Ron asked me who would I like to have produce the album? At that time I still didn't know Jerry's last name even though I had played with him about five times. So I didn't think about having Garcia produce the record. I thought we might have John Dawson from the New Riders produce the record, I did know his name. Then later that day Ron called me and David and asked how about having Jerry Garcia produce the record? I said "who?" --"The guy who has been playing banjo with you." I told him that that sounded fine with me because "he's alright."
However, for this story to be convincing Wakefield has to have "not noticed" that his banjo player's band was headlining a concert at a baseball stadium in the midst of all those Keystone gigs. I guess it's possible--maybe Wakefield left early and didn't see his banjo player backstage. But I think Wakefield was exaggerating for effect. Initially he didn't know who Garcia was, but later he did, but it's a funnier story the way Wakefield tells it now. Fair enough. In any case, Nelson, Ron Rakow and Wakefield seem to have agreed to have Garcia produce an album with some other legends. The sessions were booked for January 27-28, 1975. Wakefield:
So, after that, I called Don Reno. I talked to him for a few minutes and asked him if he wanted to come to California to do a record. Then I told him that David wanted to talk to him. Don said, "David who?" I told him David Nelson from the New Riders of the Purple Sage. I am not sure if Don knew who they were or not, but I handed the phone to David. David held the phone for a long time and said nothing. I said, David is Don still on the phone? Did you get cut off? Finally, David said, "H-h-Hello?, Don, Don Reno? Dave kept stuttering, "I can't believe I'm talking with you." After a while David calmed down. He and Don talked for awhile then I got back on the phone and asked Don what he would have to have to do the record. Don said, "what could you pay me?"I said about $800 plus a round trip ticket and a plane ticket for his banjo. He would also get a hotel room. Don said "That sounds good to me. When do you want to do it". When I called Chubby it went exactly the same way. Again, David was speechless to talk to Chubby also.The Pistol Packin' Mama album was recorded in two days at Mickey's Barn in Novato. The sessions are usually listed as January 27-29, so maybe Jerry and Healy spent an extra day mixing. It's notable that Nelson and Garcia knew all the material, even though neither had played much bluegrass in the intervening decade since The Black Mountain Boys. Garcia even recalled a song that the other band members had forgotten. The notable detail is that 28 songs were recorded, a fact basically confirmed by Nelson (who said they recorded 25 songs). Where are the other songs? Even if there are some flubbed numbers, wouldn't there be enough for another album of outtakes? The window to release them may have closed, as the cd market has shrunk, but it seems unfortunate that a Garcia-produced session of authentic bluegrass legends has sunk under the waves.
In a few days Don flew out and me, David and Garcia picked him up at the airport. Chubby wouldn't ride in a plane. So he drove out from Texas in his Cadillac. it took Chubby about a week to drive to California, but he got there. We went into the studio and I would call off a song and we would do it. David and Garcia knew all the old Bluegrass songs. Don practiced with us for about an hour before we recorded. Chubby got to California the night before we were going into the studio. Chubby didn't get a chance to practice with us at all.
We were in the studio a total of 12 hours, two days, 6 hours each day. We recorded about 28 songs in those 12 hours. We did "Leave Well Enough Alone" twice. That was a song I had wrote and forgot. Garcia suggested we do it. Jerry had to tell me the words. Don was suppose to sing baritone on it, but he had never heard it before. Don couldn't remember the words so Garcia came out from the control room and did the baritone with us on it.
January or February 1975 Paul's Saloon, San Francisco, CA: Jam Night
Fiddler Jim Moss recalls a remarkable aftermath of The Good Old Boys in California. Although Deadheads are understandably Garcia-centric, in fact in the early 1970s there was a significant revival of bluegrass amongst young hippie pickers. Jerry was the most famous, of course, but it was happening all over the country, as young players appreciated how the beauty and discipline of bluegrass lent itself to good music played in a simpler acoustic setting.
In the Bay Area, this revival had been led by a now-forgotten group called The Styx River Ferry. Styx River Ferry played what few folk clubs there were, but they also played Fillmore West on audition night and put on bluegrass shows in Ghirardelli Square. The band members were mostly Southern transplants who had come to San Francisco like everyone else, but they found themselves flying the bluegrass flag. As I understand it, Styx River Ferry was looking for a bar to play in, and they stumbled onto a place called Paul's Saloon in the Marina District (I believe the address was 3251 Scott Street), owned by one Paul Lampert. By the early 1970s, there was bluegrass almost every night of the week at Paul's. Paul's Saloon was the real nexus of Bay Area Bluegrass, where all the pickers swapped licks, beer and tall tales. By about 1973, many of the key members of Styx River Ferry had returned to the South, but Paul's Saloon remained the nexus of Bay Area bluegrass activity.
Fiddler Jim Moss continues the story:
One night in 1975 at Paul's Saloon in San Francisco, a jam night as I remember, musicians were standing around getting ready to put together a pickup band and jump up on stage to play a few songs. At the time this was how musicians kept in shape and how bands were formed. I seem to remember this was how the Phantoms of the Opry, the Good Old Persons, and the Done Gone band first got together. Paul's was an incubator for SF Bay Area bands. Paul himself was very difficult... to say the least.February 21, 1975 1685 Commercial Way, Margarita's, Santa Cruz, CA: The Good Old Boys
On this night things would be different. In through the swinging doors came Frank Wakefield, Don Reno, Jerry Garcia, Pat Campbell and David Nelson. What a buzz in that place that night. They went to the back room, the warm-up room. Before long all but Garcia had left for the stage where they would perform 2 sets. Some of us hung back in the warm-up room to see up close what kind of a Bluegrass guy Garcia was. Garcia sat there with his banjo around his neck. Robbie McDonald the banjo player for the Phantoms of the Opry, in true gun fighter fashion blasted off a tune in a fiery fashion. This was clearly a challenge to a big time rocker! A big time rocker with a missing finger on his right hand at that! What would happen next? Well, Jerry Garcia simply looked at Robbie and said, "nice playing". I would go on to meet Garcia several more times at different places in California only to see the same unpretentious character who each time seemed interested in any Bluegrassers that might be there.
Jerry Garcia actually was a member of the Good Ol' Boys on several occasions. I have heard the live tapes from at least one of these shows. Maybe Frank will find a record company to invest and put these out for all to hear someday. I know that Frank has said that he would like to find some photos of them playing together in that band someday. I know that Paul of Paul's Saloon took pictures of that night in 1975, but who knows what ever happened to him after he shut down Paul's.
There is one final known appearance of Jerry Garcia with The Good Old Boys, and it makes even less sense than these other appearances. On Saturday, February 21, 1975, about three weeks after the album was recorded, The Good Old Boys played an out-of-the-way venue in Santa Cruz called Margarita's. It was at 1685 Commercial Way, not near downtown (but near Moe's Alley at 1534 Commercial, if you know Santa Cruz). Nelson, Wakefield and bassist Pat Campbell were joined by Jerry Garcia on banjo. We are fortunate indeed to have an impeccable eyewitness, CryptDev himself:
Jerry Garcia's second appearance in Santa Cruz during the 1970s was a very low key affair. As was the case elsewhere in the Bay Area at that time, he could show up at a club, get a reasonable but not unmanageable crowd, and get to play some music without a lot of the hoopla and baggage that came with a Dead show. Because Margarita's had just opened, publicity for this show was pretty miniscule - a concert schedule listing in Santa Cruz weekly rag Sundaz was about all there was. I had learned about it when I went to the Kingfish opening show, but found a relatively sparse group in attendance when we showed up at the show. The Jerry Site gig list shows two Margarita's dates for the group, on Feb. 20 and 21st, but to the best of my recollection they only played the one night I heard them.
At Margarita's the Good Old Boys comprised Garcia on banjo, mandolin player Frank Wakefield, New Riders guitarist David Nelson, and standup bassist Pat Campbell. During the course of their set, it became apparent that the group, less Garcia (who had produced) and augmented by bluegrass legends Chubby Wise on fiddle and Don Reno on banjo, had just recorded an record an album, Pistol Packin' Mama, that came out a few months later [sic--it was a year later] on the Dead's Round Records label. Clearly Reno and Wise, who participated in two days of recording for the album, had already decamped back down south, so Garcia was recruited to fill the banjo slot.
I wish my memory of the set was more substantial, but it is no surprise that they played most, if not all, of the material on the album, which included the title tune, "Ashes of Love," "Dim Lights," and "Glendale Train" from the NRPS repertoire and "Deep Elem Blues" (Wakefield's version) which was a regular in the Dead's 1970 acoustic set lists. I do not remember any Garcia lead vocals, although a reputed GOB tape I had at one point had him singing "Russian Lullaby" (I suspect that was actually derived from a Great American String Band set rather than a GOB set) but they definitely did not play it that night. Further details are lost in the sands of time, and complicated by the fact that I was just starting to learn the traditional bluegrass repertoire at the time. Nonetheless, it was a fun, low-key evening, and Garcia, Nelson, Wakefield, and Campbell seemed to be really enjoying themselves.When The Good Old Boys played the Bay Area in 1974 and early '75, almost no Deadheads in the Bay Area had any idea of the connection. David Nelson's name was never mentioned, much less Garcia's. How many shows did they play? It's not really clear, but Wakefield and Moss seem to suggest that Garcia played several shows, and Wakefield specifically said that he had "already played with Garcia five times" before the album. That fits with the known or likely events at Keystone Berkeley (May 5 and June 13-14), Paul's (early 75) and Margarita's (Feb 21 '75). Since bluegrass bands have no amps or roadies, we can hope that there were a few more at places like The Lion's Share or The Inn Of The Beginning, but on the whole there were likely no more than about ten (JGMF found an ad for an outdoor show in Berkeley on July 7, 1974, with the Great American String Band and Good Old Boys, but since GASB didn't play, I don't think Good Old Boys would have either).
The Good Old Boys started to play shows on the East Coast in 1975. The New Riders Of The Purple Sage were a popular act on the East Coast, and his name would have attracted some people. Also, by early 1975 the Old And In The Way album had been released, so it may have seemed that Nelson was doing what Garcia had been doing, playing some bluegrass on the side, which wasn't untrue. With hindsight, it seems plausible that the shows were booked in anticipation of a Summer '75 release of Pistol Packin' Mama, but of course financial trouble at Round delayed any such plans. Nelson played at least one more show with Wakefield in the Good Old Boys in 1976. Garcia spent a day in January of 1976 mixing the album, and Round finally released Pistol Packin' Mama in March, almost a year late, thanks to a final cash infusion from United Artists.
By early 1976, The Good Old Boys were touring East Coast clubs with Peter Rowan on guitar instead of Nelson, along with Wakefield and a few other players. On at least one occasion (Feb 25 '76), David Nelson appeared with the band, presumably in anticipation of the still-delayed Round album. On other occasions, according to tapes, the likes of Vassar Clements and David Grisman joined in. From the point of view of East Coast Deadheads, who may have known very little about bluegrass, it must have made a lot of sense. The Old And In The Way album was released in March 1975, and Pistol Packin' Mama a year later. Rowan and Wakefield touring together, performing a mixture of songs from both albums (such as "Panama Red" and "Deep Elem Blues") as well as bluegrass classics made for a coherent expression of Garcia and Nelson's bluegrass roots, even if neither of them were present.
Up through the mid-80s, Wakefield mostly used the name Good Old Boys (or Good Ol' Boys) for his band when he toured, regardless of the membership. Since Pistol Packin' Mama was well-known, he regularly performed songs from that album, but many of them were bluegrass standards anyway. Relix Records released two albums in 1992 as Frank Wakefield and The Good Old Boys (Frank Wakefield and The Good Old Boys and She's No Angel). In typical Relix fashion, there is no helpful information on the liner notes, but an article suggested it was from a 1975 show (possibly June 6, 1975--see below). David Nelson is listed as a member on both albums, but there is no other information about other band members, recording dates, or anything else, save for song titles. Since banjo player Tom Stern helped produce the album, and was a later member of Good Old Boys, it seems plausible to assume that he was in the '75 lineup, but I'm not sure about the fiddler or the bass player.
"New Acoustic Music" rose to a deservingly prominent position in the 1990s, not least because of the David Grisman Quintet. The rise of the cd market, which re-released a lot of long-lost material to music fans, brought a renaissance for many artists in a variety of genres. Frank Wakefield was one of many bluegrass players whose catalog across many decades was suddenly accessible, and he continued to tour successfully well into the 21st century. I myself saw Frank Wakefield play the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley in November, 1997--just a brief 23 years after I had seen him with the New Riders at the Oakland Coliseum Stadium--and he was tremendous. Plus, it was Berkeley--Peter Rowan showed up for a few numbers, and then David Nelson did, too. It was a great night. Wakefield is still with us, I'm happy to say. He's not a young buck anymore, so I don't think he plays much, but he split the atom, so he doesn't have to.
Pistol Packin' Mama-The Good Old Boys
Initial release : March 1976
Round RX-109 / RX-LA597-G
The only Round Records release that does not include a major playing contribution from a member of the Grateful Dead. This bluegrass album was produced by Garcia. Garcia has stated in an interview that he sings harmony on Leave Well Enough Alone.
- Ashes of Love (Anglin / Anglin / Wright)
- I'm Here to Get My Baby Out Of Jail (Traditional arr Wakefield)
- Long Gone (Public Domain / Reno)
- Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (Fidler/ Maphis / Maphis)
- Deep Elem Blues (Traditional arr Wakefield)
- Pistol Packin' Mama (Dexter)
- Banjo Signal (Reno / Smiley)
- Toy Heart (Monroe)
- Leave Well Enough Alone (Traditional arr Wakefield)
- Too Wise Special (Wise)
- On Top of Old Smokey (Traditional arr Wakefield)
- Barefoot Nelly (Reno / Davis)
- Don't You Hear Jerusalem Moan (Reno)
- Glendale Train (Dawson)
- David Nelson - guitar, vocals
- Frank Wakefield - mandolin, vocals
- Don Reno - banjo, vocals
- Chubby Wise - fiddle
- Pat Campbell - bass
- Jerry Garcia - harmony vocals (on Leave Well Enough Alone)
- Producer - Jerry Garcia
- Engineer - Dan Healy
- Mixing - Jerry Garcia, Dan Healy
- Production assistants - Kidd, Steve Brown
- Art direction - Ria Lewerke
- Album design - Leonard Spencer
- Photography - Ron Rakow, John Allen
- Recorded at Rolling Thunder
- Mixed at Ace's
When Anton Round asked me to write a few words about the "Pistol Packin' Mama" album, I tried to think of what to say and couldn't even come close to what a fantastic trip it was, doing that session. In two days we had 25 songs down on tape, and upon listening back, some of the tastiest, most fun, and liveliest bluegrass ever recorded! I felt like a kid with dreams of the big leagues who was approached by Mantle, DiMaggio, and Ruth and told "well sure we'll play with you, and all your friends too!"
These three guys wrote the book on banjo, mandolin and fiddle. Chubby Wise is the dearly loved daddy of the country fiddle. He played on the sessions which are today regarded as the definitive bluegrass music. Don Reno is a phenomenal all round musician as well as one singer, guitar picker, and innovator in the highest degree.
What can I say about Frank Wakefield? He's Brer Rabbit jumping through the briar patch, in the flesh. I'd have to quote Oxford's Dictionary and say, "luxuriously prolific, virtuosity abounding, technical ability overflowing with spirit." All I can say is that it was so much fun doing this album. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I do.
Appendix 2: Good Old Boys with David Nelson (additional live shows)June 6, 1975 The Other End, New York, NY (early and late)
David Nelson played at least a few shows with The Good Old Boys in June 1975. It seems that the shows were planned as publicity for the Round Records release of Pistol Packin' Mama, and presumably the dates were fulfilled anyway. We are lucky to have a fine Jerry Moore audience tape. On the tape, Nelson says that the groups has been "on the road about three days," so presumably there are a few other dates. Band members not announced (the lineup is DN, FW, banjo, fiddle, bass--Tom Stern may be the banjo player).
At one point the band tells the crowd
[Nelson]:"We just made a record on Round Records. I imported Frank out to California and Garcia produced it. We did 25 songs in two days. It blew our minds. It's coming out in June or July, I think." [Wakefield]: "it was supposed to be out last week."These comments hint at the confusion surrounding Round Records. The album had been recorded four months earlier, and Old And In The Way had come out in the Spring, so another bluegrass release made good sense. Good sense, however, didn't always figure into Round calculations.
The Other End was at 147 Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village. Back in the early1960s it had been a coffeehouse called The Bitter End, and had played a critical role in the 60s folk scene. Prior to that, in the '50s, 147 Bleecker was called The Cock And Bull, and Hugh Romney was a regular performer (before he became better known as Wavy Gravy). In 1974, the venue became a nightclub called The Other End. It was a hippie rock hangout during a period when New York music was evolving in various different directions. Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue got its start performing on an ad hoc basis at The Other End. At the end of the '70s, the club reverted to the more famous name The Bitter End. It remains open and apparently thriving today.
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December 20, 1975 My Father's Place, Roslyn, NY: Good Old Boys
[update] Correspondent Keats writes in with an excellent link to what sounds like a Jerry Moore tape recorded at My Father's Place in Long Island. Possibly this is a source tape for the Relix album. The mc begins each set by saying "Will you please welcome Frank Wakefield and Dave Nelson, The Good Old Boys. " There are two sets, the first about an hour and the second 40 minutes. There are many songs from the upcoming album, and some bluegrass classics.
The Good Old Boys are a quintet, with Nelson doing most of the lead vocals (Wakefield handles a few). The balance of the group is Tom Stern (banjo, harmonies), John Glick (fiddle) and Rick Lindner (bass).
Nelson and Wakefield do refer to the forthcoming album. Wakefield says, mock plaintively, "when's that coming out" and Nelson says "March or maybe February." Once again, the New Riders were touring the area, having played the nearby Calderone Arena in Hempstead, NY on the previous weekend (Dec 12 and 13).
December 23, 1975 The Red Rail, Nanuet, NY: Good Old Boys/The Rowans
[update] A Jerry Moore tape has preserved the group's performance at the Red Rail (as well as a tape of The Rowans). Nelson alludes to "coming back one more time to the Red Rail, so I figure they may have played there in June. Nanuet was Southwest of Manhattan, near Nyack and the New Jersey border
February 25, 1976 The Other End, New York, NY (early and late)
w/Wakefield, Nelson, Peter Rowan (mandola), Tom Stern (banjo), John Glick (fiddle), Rick Lindner (bass)
The Good Old Boys apparently played regularly around the East Coast in 1976, as we have tapes from February, April, July and November 1976. Frank Wakefield led the band, of course, but the guitar and lead vocals were handled by Peter Rowan rather than Nelson. To Deadheads, this must have made perfect sense. Most Deadheads had just discovered bluegrass via Old And In The Way (I certainly had), so Wakefield and Rowan touring together presented the two leaders of the "Grateful Dead Bluegrass Scene," such as it appeared. The Good Old Boys with Rowan performed a mixture of songs from Pistol Packin' Mama, Old And In The Way and bluegrass standards. The balance of the band besides Rowan (guitar, vocals) and Wakefield (mandolin, vocals) was Tom Stern (banjo), John Glick (fiddle) and Rick Lindner (bass).
However, for one show at The Other End, on February 25, 1976,David Nelson "rejoined" the band. Rowan played mandola instead of guitar, but he sang as well. Clearly, this show was intended to publicize the release of the album, but once again the album was not even released yet. We have a fine tape of the show, but I don't know whether or if Nelson appeared at any other Good Old Boys concerts after that show.
Don Reno (1926-84) was a legendary banjo player in bluegrass circles. After time in the US Army in WW2, Reno joined Bill Monroe and The Bluegrass Boys in 1948, replacing Earl Scruggs. For a player like Garcia, Don Reno was a foundational player in the three-finger picking style. In 1950, Reno formed his most famous bluegrass partnership with guitarist and singer Red Smiley, which lasted until 1964. Reno continued to perform until his death in 1984. He is buried in Lynchburg, VA.
Fiddler Chubby Wise (1915-1996) was a member of Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys from 1942-48, making him a critical member of the band that invented bluegrass. He had an extensive career after Monroe, including becoming a member of The Grand Ole Opry (essentially meaning he was in the house band). He worked on numerous country sessions as well.
Appendix 5: Frank Wakefield On Meeting Jerry
Here is the complete Wakefield interview about Garcia and Nelson, from Jim Moss's excellent Candlewater site. I have excerpted various parts as appropriate above, but here is the whole interview.
Frank Wakefield: In 1975 David Nelson, Don Reno, Chubby Wise, and Jerry Garcia made an album out in California. That record sort of came about on the spur of the moment. I was out in Marin County, in Northern California staying at David Nelson's house and doing shows with his band, The New Riders Of The Purple Sage. Me and David... and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, were also doing some shows together. When we did shows David would play guitar and Jerry played banjo.
David and Jerry started out playing music together in a Bluegrass band before they got into Country Rock and they both really loved Bluegrass music. Whenever Garcia played with me and David, we would always have a full house. I thought it was because of me. I never had heard of Garcia or the Grateful Dead before. It took me a while to realize that people were coming to the shows because Jerry was playing with us. When we played shows together we played acoustic. I didn't know any of the Grateful Dead's music and the fact is I still don't. The audience that was coming to see us was mostly Grateful Dead fans. Most of them had never heard Bluegrass music before, but they really loved it when they heard it. Both Jerry Garcia and David Nelson helped create a lot of Bluegrass fans. I still meet fans who say that they first heard Bluegrass back when we were doing those shows with Garcia and David in the Good Ol Boys back east in 1976 and 1977 [sic].
The way the Pistol Packin' Mama album came about was me and David were sitting around talking when I told David I'd like to do a record of me and him with Don Reno and Chubby Wise. First, David thought I was kidding. When he realized that I was serious he said, "Boy, I would love too, but that you could never get to talk to people like Don Reno and Chubby Wise." I had already recorded with Don and Chubby back in 1959, so I said to David, "Why don't we call them, but first lets go talk to Ron Rakow." Rakow was the fella who ran Round Records, the Grateful Dead's record company. So we went over to Ron's office to talk to him and he was really interested after I told him that Chubby and Don were some of the original people in Bluegrass. Ron had actually never heard of them. Ron asked me how much I thought it would cost to do the record. I said, "Oh, maybe three or four hundred dollars." David looked at me kinda funny and said "Frank, it will cost more than that". Then Ron Rakow said, "You'd have to have at least five thousand to start off with." That sounded good to me so I said, "Well, I ain't gonna argue with that".
Then Ron asked me who would I like to have produce the album? At that time I still didn't know Jerry's last name even though I had played with him about five times. So I didn't think about having Garcia produce the record. I thought we might have John Dawson from the New Riders produce the record, I did know his name. Then later that day Ron called me and David and asked how about having Jerry Garcia produce the record? I said "who?" The guy who has been playing banjo with you. I told him that that soundedfine with me because "he's alright."
So, after that, I called Don Reno. I talked to him for a few minutes and asked him
if he wanted to come to California to do a record. Then I told him that David wanted
to talk to him. Don said, "David who?". I told him David Nelson from the New Riders
of the Purple Sage. I am not sure if Don knew who they were or not, but I handed
the phone to David. David held the phone for a long time and said nothing. I said, David, is Don still on the phone? Did you get cut off? Finally, David said, "Hh Hello?, Don, Don Reno?" Dave kept stuttering, "I can't believe I'm talking with you." After a while David calmed down. He and Don talked for awhile then I got back on the phone and asked Don what he would have to have to do the record. Don said, "what could you pay me?" I said about $800 plus a round trip ticket and a plane ticket for his banjo. He would also get a hotel room. Don said "That sounds good to me. When do you want to do it".
When I called Chubby it went exactly the same way. Again, David was speechless to
talk to Chubby also. In a few days Don flew out and me, David and Garcia picked him up at the airport. Chubby wouldn't ride in a plane. So he drove out from Texas in his Cadillac. it took Chubby about a week to drive to California, but he got there. We went into the studio and I would call off a song and we would do it. David and Garcia knew all the old Bluegrass songs. Don practiced with us for about an hour before we recorded.
Chubby got to California the night before we were going into the studio. Chubby
didn't get a chance to practice with us at all.
We were in the studio a total of 12 hours, two days, 6 hours each day. We recorded
about 28 songs in those 12 hours. We did "Leave Well Enough Alone" twice. That was
a song I had wrote and forgot. Garcia suggested we do it. Jerry had to tell me
the words. Don was suppose to sing baritone on it, but he had never heard it before.
Don couldn't remember the words so Garcia came out from the control room and
did the baritone with us on it.
I decided on the name for the album. Pistol Packin' Mama sounded like a good
name for an album. We put four of Don's songs on the album, "Banjo Signal,"
"Barefoot Nellie," "Don't You Hear Jerusalem Moan" and "Long Gone." Don sang
lead on the vocals he wrote. We put an instrumental of Chubby's on the record too.
Chubby didn't have a name for the tune. I always called him Chubby Too Wise,
so I said, "Why don't we call it the "Too Wise Special"?" Well, that really tickled
Chubby. When Chubby would start laughing with that big laugh of his, it would
start his belly to shakin all around. He said, "That sounds mighty fine Little Frankie!"
Chubby would always call me "Little Frankie".
(Jim Moss interview-2006)
|Frank Wakefield's debut album in 1972, on the Cambridge, MA label Rounder Records. The backing musicians were an Ithaca, NY band called Country Cooking, who included Kenny Kosek (fiddle) and Pete Wernick (banjo).|
Frank Wakefield's first solo album was released in 1972 on Rounder Records, out of Cambridge, MA. Although there are not track-by-track credits, the backing group was a band of young bluegrass musicians in Ithaca, NY, called Country Cooking. As a sign of how tiny the hippie bluegrass world was back then, it is worth noting that while Country Cooking fiddler Kenny Kosek would go on to perform in the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band, banjo player Peter Wernick had already played with both Nelson and Garcia. Back in the Summer of 1963, Wernick had played a few shows in a group called The Godawful Palo Alto Bluegrass Ensemble with Jerry Garcia and Eric Thompson. In the Winter of '69, Wernick had played with Nelson in a bluegrass group called High Country.
Wernick, although a regular in the Greenwich Village folk clubs, was also getting a PhD in Sociology from Columbia University, thus earning the name "Dr Banjo," by which he is still well known. In the early 70s, Dr. Wernick had an academic appointment at Cornell , which is how he came to found a bluegrass band that still had connections in University enclaves like Greenwich Village, Cambridge, Berkeley and Palo Alto (looking at you, Dr. Humbead).
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