Thursday, March 9, 2017

Album Economics: Skeletons From The Closet (The Lost Door)

The cover of Skeletons From The Closet-The Best of The Grateful Dead, released in February of 1974 on Warner Brothers Records. It is the best-selling Grateful Dead album ever, having certified sales of over 3 million units (Triple Platinum)
Ask anyone--what was the best selling Grateful Dead album of the 1970s? Some may argue for the persistence of Workingman's Dead or American Beauty over the immediate popularity of 1971's Grateful Dead (aka "Skull And Roses"), but it doesn't matter, because none of those were it. The best selling Grateful Dead album was a February, 1974 release on Warner Brothers Records called Skeletons From The Closet-The Best of The Grateful Dead. The album went Triple Platinum, which means that 3 million units were sold. Even In The Dark only went Double Platinum, so Skeletons seems to be the best selling Grateful Dead album of all time. I am not concerned with the final tally, however, notwithstanding I have no reason to believe record company assertions in any case. Rather, I am interested in focusing on the forgotten fact that Skeletons From The Closet was the introduction to the Grateful Dead for a legion of suburban young people who very well may have forgotten it.

The Eagles-Their Greatest Hits (1971-75), released in February 1976 on Asylum Records. It is the best-selling ablum of the 20th century. As of 2009, the RIAA had certified sales of 29 million copies, only behind Thriller. The album didn't even include "Hotel California," which hadn't yet been recorded. The members of The Eagles were not happy it was released, and had no input.
"Best Of" Albums
In the universe of the 1960s music industry, artists didn't have much leverage. One way in which artists were beholden was that they had no direct control of the repackaging of previously released material. If a band had put out a couple of albums and then changed labels, for example, their old label would put together a "new" album of their best known songs as a "Greatest Hits" or "Best Of" (if they had no hits). The "Best Of" album inevitably competed with any newly released material, thus punishing artists for changing labels. 

Even into the 1970s, the Best Of album still had a lot of leverage for record companies. While records-only retailers like Tower Records, Sam Goody's and others were opening stores in major markets, and while hip college towns and downtown neighborhoods had sophisticated independent record stores, the majority of albums were still sold in department stores and the like. They would have a few hundred pop albums, mostly current hits, rather than the thousands of albums at a place like Tower. Particularly out in the suburbs, younger rock music fans had to take what they could find at the music departments of stores like Macy's or Payless. If you liked a group, and a Best Of was the only available album at the store, buying the record was often your only choice.

Truth be told, back in the early '70s, buying a Best Of album might have been your best choice, too. Information about rock albums was surprisingly hard to come by, unless you lived in some college town, read Rolling Stone every week and made a study of it (not that I am referring to anyone in particular). For example, if you somehow heard some Canned Heat on the local FM station and got intrigued, you might not have had a lot of choices at your local JC Penney's record section. If it was 1973, should you buy their current album, One More River To Cross, or Canned Heat Cookbook: The Best Of Canned Heat? Typically, those might be your only two choices, It's easy to say that you should have wanted 1967's Boogie With Canned Heat or 1968's Living The Blues, but you might never see those albums without moving to the big city. The fact was, Canned Heat had changed labels, and One More River To Cross was their first album on Atlantic, and it was pretty weak. All the good stuff was on Liberty, so you were better off with Canned Heat Cookbook.

Wake Of The Flood, released October 1973 on Grateful Dead Records. It was the band's first release, and the current album when Skeletons was released several months later
State Of Play, Grateful Dead 1973
Let's set the stage. In mid-1972, the Grateful Dead were coming to the end of their Warner Brothers contract. The Dead had released three successful albums in a row, and Warners were interested in re-signing them. Columbia (CBS) was also interested, as label head Clive Davis had always been a fan of Jerry Garcia and the Dead. The Dead were an increasingly popular touring act, which meant that any new albums would not be solely dependent on radio airplay for success, although in fact Dead songs like "Uncle John's Band" and "Truckin'" got pretty good airplay on many FM stations. With two major labels bidding for them, the Dead were in a pretty powerful position. Of course, being the Grateful Dead, they chose instead to eschew any major labels and go completely independent. Warner Brothers was stunned, and not happy, either.

The Grateful Dead closed out their obligation to Warners with the triple-live release of Europe '72 in November of 1972, and the peculiar archival release The History Of The Grateful Dead, Vol 1 (Bear's Choice) in March 1973, assembled and produced by Owsley "Bear" Stanley. The strange Bear's Choice album was seemingly designed to insure that any momentum from Europe '72 and incessant touring would not accrue to Warners, since only the most devoted of Deadheads would buy the album. This, too, was par for the course in the early 70s record industry. If a band was leaving a label and owed an album, you just delivered some relatively uncommercial music to spite your old company.

Warners may have thought that there was a last-second chance to re-sign the Dead, but it was not to be. The Grateful Dead released Wake Of The Flood on their own label in October, 1973. Wake wasn't a bad album, and it had some pretty good songs, but the biggest problem for Grateful Dead Records was distribution. The entire subject is too hard to get into here, but the essence of it was that rock fans were mostly young teenagers in the suburbs, and when they went to their local Macy's or Payless, they were going to buy something that was available in the record store. If it wasn't a Grateful Dead album, it might be Shootout At The Fantasy Factory (by Traffic), Close To The Edge (by The Yes) or Brothers And Sisters (by the Allman Brothers) because that's what was in the store. It was all well and good for teenagers in Greenwich Village, Berkeley or Palo Alto to have their own wide, snobby choices, but that was a relatively rare privilege. Most teenage rock fans bought the best available album at whatever time Mom drove them to the store. That was how albums went Gold, and Warners excelled at making sure their albums were in every imaginable outlet, through WEA, their mighty distribution arm.

The back cover of Skeletons From The Closet
Skeletons From The Closet-Grateful Dead (Warner Brothers Records, February 1974)
The Grateful Dead don't really talk about Skeletons From The Closet, but the truth was that they participated in its production. There isn't any doubt, as house engineers Betty Cantor and Bill Wolf were credited as editors. That means that Warner Brothers allowed the Dead to put the album together, subject to Warners' approval of course. This, too, was a common arrangement. Given that Warners was going to put out some kind of Best Of The Grateful Dead album, it made sense to give the Dead at least a little input into the album itself. The hidden hammer was that Warners could spite the band by putting out a bad album, and the Dead would lose out on the potential royalties. There was actually a lot of money riding on the album, and the Dead were sensible enough to participate.

I'm not aware of any interview with Betty about the subject, but it's not hard to figure out the parameters of her participation:

Choose the songs, subject to Warners approval
  • This meant that popular FM songs like "Truckin'," "Uncle John's Band," "Sugar Magnolia," "Casey Jones" and "Friend Of The Devil" were mandatory, or Warners would reject the album. Within reason, the other songs were probably Betty's choice. I have no idea if she consulted with band members
Sequence the album
  • Note that the album is not in time order. "Golden Road" is first, but "Friend Of The Devil" is last.
Possibly some technical input, though not remixing. 
  • Betty may have had some say about making sure the volume levels for each track were in sync, but it appears that nothing was remixed, as it would be too expensive, and arguably inappropriate (since buyers would have wanted the original sound of each track).
If you think about the song choices for the album, Betty's hand can be seen. It's all well and good to say "how could you reduce the nine Grateful Dead albums (with 13 lps) to a single album?" But that is what the 70s record industry did, because it was good business. All of the released material (and actually, the unreleased material) was controlled by the record company. Betty Cantor, on behalf of the Dead, could participate or let some stranger do it. So clearly, the Dead at least wanted their own spoon stirring the pot.

While the five songs mentioned were clearly mandatory, the rest were not. Length had to be a factor, so a 23-minute "Dark Star" was out of the question, however important we think it was. It is plain that the goal was to have a broader spectrum of shorter songs that gave some idea of the Grateful Dead's range, beyond the basic appeal of their "hits." Here is the track list:
  • The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion) (Garcia/Lesh/Weir/Kreutzmann/McKernan)
  • Truckin' (Garcia/Lesh/Weir/Hunter) [from American Beauty]
  • Rosemary (Garcia/Hunter)
  • Sugar Magnolia (Weir/Hunter) [from American Beauty]
  • St. Stephen (Garcia/Lesh/Hunter) [from Aoxomoxoa]
  • Uncle John's Band (Garcia/Hunter)
  • Casey Jones (Garcia/Hunter)
  • Mexicali Blues (Weir/Barlow) [from Ace]
  • Turn On Your Love Light (Malone / Scott) [from The Big Ball]
  • One More Saturday Night (Weir) [from Europe '72]
  • Friend Of The Devil (Garcia/Dawson/Hunter)
A few details stand out: 
  • Only Betty Cantor, and perhaps Bob Matthews, would have included "Rosemary" (from Aoxomoxoa) on a Best Of The Grateful Dead album. It's not a bad song, but most Deadheads, myself included, do not recall the melody or the lyrics. Bob and Betty were the engineers on the original recording.
  • The studio "St Stephen" was shorter than the Live/Dead version, even if it wasn't as good
  • The track list includes writing credits for all the existing band members, save Keith and Donna Godchaux, who had none on Warner Brothers. Kreutzmann and Lesh would have got royalties from "The Golden Road" and (in Lesh's case) from "Truckin'" and "St. Stephen." For what turned out to be a triple platinum album, this was no small thing
  • Including a song from Ace insured a writing credit for John Barlow
  • Mickey Hart was not a working member of the Grateful Dead in 1973, so he got no writing credits. Granted, there were few choices, but note that Barlow and Kreutzmann got credits 
  • There were no tracks from Anthem Of The Sun or Grateful Dead {Skull & Roses}
  • The album was sequenced like a mini-concert, with a "Lovelight" rave-up and a "One More Saturday Night" encore, and a soothing "Friend Of The Devil" finale. The point of this was to make the album fun to listen to, since an LP could hardly be put on Shuffle.
John Van Hamersveld's poster for the November 10-11, 1967 concert at Los Angeles' Shrine Expo, featuring Buffalo Springfield/Grateful Dead/Blue Cheer
Cover Art: John Van Hamersveld
Another non-trivial factor in the success of Skeletons From The Closet was the front and back cover art, by poster artist John Van Hamersveld. Album covers were far more influential in selling records back in the 1970s. For one thing, the album needed to catch your eye in the store. For another, albums are big, and people in your dorm room could see what you had. An album with a cool cover was often a talking point, but an anxious teenager would feel that an album with a dumb cover made you look like a dweeb. Many "Best Of" albums, while full of good music, had cheap text or bad pictures on the cover, and they weren't appealing to teenagers who thought that albums were a form of self-expression. But Skeletons had a clever, appropriate cover, the kind that would have been in contention even if the Dead had been picking the cover. It was no accident.

John Van Hamersveld was a legendary psychedelic poster artist. Among many other things, Van Hamersheld had made the iconic movie poster for the 1964 surfing movie Endless Summer, and famous album covers like Magical Mystery Tour and Jefferson Airplane's Crown Of Creation. He had also made the wonderful posters for concerts at the Shrine Exposition Center in Los Angeles in 1967 and 1968. He even made one for the Grateful Dead/Buffalo Springfield concerts on November 10-11, 1967 (above). So although Van Hamersveld had been contracted by Warners, he was the sort of artist the Dead would have hired themselves. The front and back covers are excellent, and they insured that Skeletons looked cool in any dorm room record collection, no small thing in 1974.

The Big Ball, a double lp album from Warners featuring 30 different artists, including the Grateful Dead
The Big Ball-Warner Brothers Records (1970)
The one edited track on Skeletons was a shortened version of "Turn Your Lovelight," from Live/Dead, reduced to 6:30 from the 15:30 minute version on the original album. Whether or not you thought an edit was sacrilegious--I thought so at the time--it was a necessity in order to fit onto the album. What was not widely known was that the edited version of "Lovelight" had already been released in 1970, on an interesting Warner Brothers promotional album called The Big Ball. The Big Ball was actually a pretty creative approach to record promotion, and the edited "Lovelight" probably helped spread the sound of the Dead to people who had never heard them. I myself had owned The Big Ball since 1972, and although I had already known about the Dead, I discovered a lot of acts from that album.

In 1958, Warner Brothers Records had been established as the recorded music division of Warner Brothers Pictures. Studio head Jack Warner was not actually interested in the music business, however, so while Warners released some soundtracks and the like, it was considered the most backwards and least creative of the major record labels. In 1963, Warners merged with the failing Reprise Records, which had been Frank Sinatra's label. More importantly, Reprise head Mo Ostin became President of the new Warner/Reprise Records, and Ostin turned out to be far more important than Sinatra.

Under Mo Ostin, Warner Brothers took steps to catch up with the times. When rock music hit Los Angeles hard, Ostin and Warners dived in. One reason that Warners VP Joe Smith could sign the untamed, anti-commercial Grateful Dead in 1966 to Warners was that the label was desperately trying to be hip. Signing the coolest, most anti-establishment band from the hippest rock city was designed to give Warner Brothers industry credibility, not sell records. Warners made a similar move at the end of 1967 when they signed Frank Zappa away from Verve. They even gave Zappa and his manager two labels of their own, Bizarre and Straight. Once again, this was to look cool to other rock bands, rather than a commercial proposition (although in the end it worked out very well for Warners).

By 1970, Warner/Reprise had signed a lot of rock artists, and put out a bunch of records. Some of them were good, and some of them were even successful. Warners, however, like every other label, was pretty much dependent on AM or FM radio to publicize their artists. If records didn't get played, no one heard them. Even when a record was reviewed in Rolling Stone or elsewhere, there was literally no way to hear even one song, unless you heard it on the radio. Every teenage consumer had spent their allowance money on some album by a cool looking band with a great cover, only to hate it from the first note, so we were all cautious about buying albums where we hadn't heard any song at all.

Warner Brothers attempt to break the radio bottleneck was to release a series of double albums that were sold for only $2.00, when a typical double-lp was $5.99 or so. The album had one track by multiple artists on Warner and Reprise, with a little blurb about each one, along with a picture of the album. For a teenage record buyer, this was a very good deal. The first and most famous of these was The Big Ball, released sometime in 1970. I heard the record in 1972, because a friend of my sister's had it, and I got it for one song. However, as a result, I discovered numerous Warners artists, and probably bought albums by them far sooner than I would have otherwise.

The song which caught my attention was from Truckstop, a solo album by Ed Sanders of The Fugs. The song was called "The Iliad," although we called it "Johnny Piss-Off." It would never, ever be played on the radio. Once I got the album, however, I could contemplate the other 29 artists (see the appendix below for the list of tracks). The lp sides were divided thematically: side one was "folk-rock," side 2 was all English bands, side 3 was "singer-songwriters" and side 4 was "freaks." I of course gravitated to side 4. Other than the Sanders track, there were 5 tracks from different artists on Zappa's labels (The GTOs, Captan Beefheart, The Mothers, Pearls Before Swine and Wild Man Fischer) and the shortened version of "Turn On Your Lovelight." In my case, I had already heard the long version, as my sister had Live/Dead, but just as I discovered Captain Beefheart and the Mothers "WPLJ," not to mention "Johnny Piss-off," other fans must have discovered the Dead. Since the track was already edited, Betty Cantor could use it for Skeletons since she wouldn't accrue any additional expenses by having to re-edit.

A framed copy of the RIAA-certified Gold Album for American Beauty

Gold And Platinum
Hundreds of thousands of people saw the Grateful Dead in the 1970s, and even more in the 1980s and 90s. Yet the historical record is skewed by those Grateful Dead fans--Deadheads--who saw the Grateful Dead many times over the decade, and indeed have remained dedicated fans unto this day. I am certainly among that number. Because of the unique scope of Grateful Dead fan devotion and attention, it is commonplace to read an article, blog or discussion group post from someone who first saw the Dead in the 60s and 70s, saw them numerous times thereafter, and paid scrupulous attention each time (this blog is a typical example). In fact, however, the persistent diligence of hardcore Deadheads gives a narrow picture of who actually saw the Dead. Nothing illustrates this more than the fact that Skeletons From The Closet outsold every other Grateful Dead album.

In February of 1974, when Skeletons was released, the rock audience was mostly young. Sure, a few groovy people had been rock fans since the Beatles hit, and maybe they were in their late 20s. But most rock fans were high school and college age. In particular, the booming rock concert market was getting bigger and bigger because more and more people wanted to see popular bands in person. A rational look at the Grateful Dead's touring schedule tells us that outside of San Francisco and Manhattan, the overwhelming number of people who saw the Grateful Dead were seeing them for the first time, or at most the second. 

Of course, we read stories of a group of hippies from Brooklyn--very often Brooklyn, but that is a different topic--who made some pilgrimage to see the Dead in Tennessee or Virginia, but remember, they were the exceptions. It is an odd skew of the Grateful Dead that the outliers, the hardest core of fans, are the ones defining the historical Grateful Dead experience. The truth is, most people who saw the Dead in Madison, WI or the Jai Alai Fronton in Miami had never seen them before. Seeing the Dead was like seeing Dave Mason or Ten Years After when they came to town. It was fun, but rock concerts were a thing you did with your friends or a date. Sure, the Dead toured for so long that many of them may have ended up seeing them again a decade later or something, just as they saw Mason or Alvin  Lee in the 80s.

If people saw a band and liked them, what did they do? They went and bought an album. The Dead had no revered classic like Dark Side Of The Moon or Rumors, so fans were on their own. If you were just planning to buy one album, then why not buy the album with the most songs that you knew? Most Deadheads don't even own Skeletons, and often don't know it exists, and yet it is the best-selling Grateful Dead album of all time. Since it shifted at least 3 million copies, that tells us how many people out there saw a Dead concert or wondered what the fuss was, and grabbed the record.

Skeletons was certified Gold (500,000 units sold) on March 14, 1980. On December 15, 1986 it was certified Platinum (1 million sold), which means it was still selling long before "Touch Of Grey." It was certified Double Platinum (2 Million) on June 27, 1994) and Triple Platinum (January 31, 1995), as many cassette and cd copies must have been sold as well. Note that the last threshold was reached before Jerry Garcia died. RIAA Certifications (Gold, Platinum etc) are notoriously vague, but the sheer volume of record sales means that the album was a huge seller by any marker. Skeletons was the album of choice for casual Grateful Dead fans, and it turns out there were a lot of those. Sure, lots of fans bought Skeletons and then "got on the bus," but they got the album when they were still thinking of the Dead as a regular rock group,

What A Long Strange Trip It's Been, a double-lp compilation of Grateful Dead music released on Warner Brothers in October, 1977
What A Long Strange Trip It's Been-Grateful Dead (Warner Brothers Records, October 1977)
It is often difficult for regular rock fans to grasp the frustration and bitterness with which Classic Rock musicians viewed their former record companies. After all, the company would have signed the band, financed their rise, and made them rich--why all the vitriol? "Best Of" albums bring those old relationships into focus. The Grateful Dead had decided to go independent in Fall of 1972, but had to release the triple-lp Europe 72 and Bear's Choice to exit the deal. They had released Wake Of The Flood in November of 1973 on their own Grateful Dead Records label. The album had done alright, but not great. But the Grateful Dead were working on another album, and they were prepared to tour hard throughout the summer to support it.

Yet come February of 1974, what Grateful Dead album was easiest get? Skeletons From The Closet, because the Warners distribution arm made sure that it was in every department store music section in the country. When the Dead started playing big places in May, expanding their audience in Reno and Montana and Santa Barbara, what album were the newbies most likely to buy? Even when Mars Hotel was released in late June, Warners distribution far outpaced the new, independent Grateful Dead operation. All those great shows in Miami, Springfield and New Haven were selling Skeletons, not Mars Hotel. The Dead's touring was supporting Warner Brothers Records more than Grateful Dead Records.

Even when the Dead signed with Arista Records at the end of 1976, they found themselves up against Warner Brothers again. The Grateful Dead had released Terrapin Station in July of 1977, and toured heavily throughout the year. Once again, Terrapin was popular, but not a huge success. The Dead missed out on Summer touring because of Mickey Hart's auto accident, but they had numerous dates lined up for October and November 1977. And Warner Brothers? They just released another Best Of The Grateful Dead album.

What A Long Strange Trip It's Been was a double-lp released by Warners in October of 1977. This time, nobody from the Grateful Dead seems to have been involved.  The album mostly featured live tracks. There was also a genuine rarity, a re-release of the "Dark Star"/"Born Cross-Eyed" single from 1968. Warners were shrewd, too, about who might be buying the album. Deadheads like me only had to decide if we wanted to buy the album for the rare single, since we had all the albums. The most likely buyers probably already had Skeletons, so save "Truckin" from American Beauty, there were no repeats from Skeletons, making it a nice purchase from that point of view.

WALSTIB didn't have Skeletons numbers, but it still was a fair success. By 2001 it had gone Platinum. It may seem that the Dead should have been happy with the royalties they were going to get from the albums, and they surely were, but it was a decidedly mixed blessing. Record companies were notoriously slow and stingy about remanding any money to acts who had left the label, generally forcing them to sue the company. This was one reason that labels were slow to "certify" Gold and Platinum Best Of albums, because they didn't want to even acknowledge the sales. WALSTIB was certified Gold and Platinum on the same day in 2001, a clear sign that Warners had not been doing the Dead any favors.

So after 1973, the Dead found themselves in competition with their own label. Since Warners distribution was the best in the industry, they could out-do Arista as well as Grateful Dead Records, and it would have been something that rankled. As if that wasn't enough, the Dead, like any group, wanted to name albums or projects after phrases associated with the band name, and Warner Brothers had used two of the best choices. 

Biograph, the 5-lp set of classic and unreleased Bob Dylan music released in 1985. It established the Boxed Set as a viable commercial proposition
Biograph, The CD Revolution and the Afterlife of Skeletons
The late 20th century record industry kept finding new ways to make money, but the artists who made that music were not always included. For a variety of reasons, the Grateful Dead managed to evade some of the record industry trends at the end of the century. Bob Dylan's Biograph, a five-lp set, was released in 1986, and it ushered in the era of the boxed set. The Grateful Dead were rare amongst major 60s bands in not releasing a multi-album set in the early 90s with classic tracks, rarities and live cuts (they released So Many Roads after Garcia died). It was Warners who would have benefited, and the Dead weren't particularly interested.

Similarly, the record industry made a lot of money re-selling everyone their own record collection on compact disc. The Dead were in no hurry to assist Warners in this enterprise, although once again they did so after Garcia's death. It seems to me that the beginning of Two From The Vault and Dick's Picks, which featured music from the Warner Brothers period, indicated a rapprochement between Warners and the Dead. Ultimately, after many mergers, Rhino Records, owned by Warner Music, a successor to Warner Brothers Records, took over the Grateful Dead catalog, and everyone seems to have benefited.

Incredibly, the audience for Grateful Dead music has continued to expand into the 21st century. Downloads, archival cds and newly performed and recorded music have continued to generate millions of dollars in sales every year. Yet the audio cd of Skeletons (released 1990) still has non-zero sales on Amazon, so it has continued to sell over the years, at least to some degree. The sheer volume of released Grateful Dead music, not to mention the extraordinary availability of "unreleased" Dead music, appears to still leave an opening for the new or casual fan to dip their toes in the water, and Skeletons From The Closet yet remains poised to provide that entry point, even if few Deadheads recall that the best-selling Grateful Dead album even exists.

Initial release : February 1974
Warner Bros. W-2764

Single LP compilation of tracks from the Grateful Dead Warner Brothers albums plus one tack from Bob Weir's album Ace.

  • The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion) (Garcia/Lesh/Weir/Kreutzmann/McKernan)
  • Truckin' (Garcia/Lesh/Weir/Hunter)
  • Rosemary (Garcia/Hunter)
  • Sugar Magnolia (Weir/Hunter)
  • St. Stephen (Garcia/Lesh/Hunter)
  • Uncle John's Band (Garcia/Hunter)
  • Casey Jones (Garcia/Hunter)
  • Mexicali Blues (Weir/Barlow)
  • Turn On Your Love Light (Malone / Scott)
  • One More Saturday Night (Weir)
  • Friend Of The Devil (Garcia/Dawson/Hunter)
Credits for the compilation;

  • Editing - Betty Cantor, Bill Wolf
  • Artwork - John Van Hamersveld
  • Art Direction - Bob Seidman
March 14, 1980
December 15, 1986
Double Platinum[4]
June 27, 1994
Triple Platinum[4]
January 31, 1995

Initial release : 1970
Warner Brothers PRO 358

A Warner Brothers/Reprise double LP loss leader sampler that includes an edited version of Turn On Your Lovelight from Live/Dead. 

Tracks / Musicians 
Side 1
Nice Folks - The Fifth Avenue Band
Red-Eye Express - John Sebastian
This Whole World - The Beach Boys
New Orleans Hopscotch Blues - Geoff & Maria Muldaur
Coming in to Los Angeles - Arlo Guthrie
I Was the Rebel, She Was the Cause - Eric Andersen
Jubilee - Norman Greenbaum
Ivy - Savage Grace

Side 2
Caravan - Van Morrison
Oh Well (Parts 1 & 2) - Fleetwood Mac
Sally Go Round the Roses - The Pentangle
Nothing Is Easy - Jethro Tull
Flying - Small Faces
No Mule's Fool - Family
When I Turn Out the Living Room Light - The Kinks

Side 3
I'm on My Way Home Again - The Everly Brothers
Happy Time - Tim Buckley
Big Yellow Taxi - Joni Mitchell
The Loner - Neil Young
Approaching Lavender - Gordon Lightfoot
Mama Told Me Not to Come - Randy Newman
Fire and Rain - James Taylor
Sit Down Old Friend - Dion

Side 4
The Illiad - Ed Sanders
Kansas and the GTO's; The Captain's Fat Theresa Shoes; The Original GTO's - The GTO's
Ella Guru - Captain Beefheart
WPLJ - Mothers Of Invention
The Taster and The Story of the Taster - Wild Man Fischer
Footnote - Pearls Before Swine
Turn On Your Love Light - Grateful Dead

Initial release : October 1977
Warner Bros. 2W-3091

A double LP compilation of music from the Grateful Dead recordings on the Warner Brothers label. 

  • LP 1 - side 1
  • New, New Minglewood Blues (McGannahan Skjellyfetti)
  • Cosmic Charlie (Garcia/Hunter)
  • Truckin' (Garcia/Lesh/Weir/Hunter)
  • Black Peter (Garcia/Hunter)
  • Born Cross-Eyed (The Grateful Dead)
  • LP 1 - side 2
  • Ripple (Hunter/Garcia)
  • Doin' That Rag (Garcia/Hunter)
  • Dark Star (Garcia/Hunter)
  • High Time (Garcia/Hunter)
  • New Speedway Boogie (Garcia/Hunter)
  • LP 2 - side 1
  • St. Stephen (Garcia/Lesh/Hunter)
  • Jack Straw (Weir/Hunter)
  • Me and My Uncle (Phillips)
  • Tennessee Jed (Garcia/Hunter)
  • LP 2 - side 2
  • Cumberland Blues (Garcia/Lesh/Hunter)
  • Playing In The Band (Weir/Hart/Hunter)
  • Brown-Eyed Woman (Garcia/Hunter)
  • Ramble On Rose (Garcia/Hunter)

Credits For the compilation;
  • Executive Producer - Paul L. Wexler

  • Art supervision - Paul L. Wexler
  • Art - Rick Griffin
  • Photography - Arthur Stern
  • Additional photo - Ed Perlstein
  • Tape assembly supervision - Paul L. Wexler
  • Tape assembly - Loyd Clifft
  • Engineering - Bob and Betty
  • Mix down - Bob and Betty
  • Honorable mention - Hal Kant, The Phantom Finger Cult and Taper Bob

Date :Gold, Platinum August 24, 2001

Friday, January 13, 2017

Kingfish Performance History January-August 1976 (Kingfish IV)

An ad for Joe Cocker and Kingfish at Golden Hall in San Diego, on Sunday May 23, 1976
One of my ongoing projects has been to untangle the web or relationships linking Grateful Dead spin-off bands that did not directly stem from Jerry Garcia. Garcia, understandably, is always the focus of Grateful Dead scholarship, but he is not the only axle on which the wheels turn. In particular, the maze of relationships with David Nelson, Dave Torbert and Matthew Kelly goes far beyond the Jerry Garcia connection.

As part of this, I have an ongoing series about Kingfish, with and without Bob Weir. The recent posting of an excellent summary of Bob Weir setlists  has reminded me that I have an unfinished gap in my series. From January to August of 1976, Bob Weir and Kingfish were making a genuine stab at rock stardom, producing an album on Round and touring heavily. In some ways, this was the least provocative, yet still the most productive period of the band's career. However, there has been no complete list of the shows during that time, and I myself still have not completed the research. However, in order to have continuity, I have decided to post my list as it currently stands. I am hoping that anyone with additional information or corrections can post it in the Comments and I will add the show to the list. I am particularly interested in finding out the names of any opening acts. Ultimately this should be aggregated to the Weir list linked above.

A complete list of my extensive posts on the Performance History of various non-Garcia Grateful Dead spinoff bands is presented in Appendix 2 below.

Kingfish Performance History January-August 1976
This list is focused on Kingfish performance dates and venues, with opening acts. For setlists, see the Weir setlist site . Anyone with additional information, about previously unknown shows, opening acts or eyewitness accounts (or lacking that, interesting rumors and speculation), please post them in the Comments.

Kingfish kicked off 1976 with four nights at the legendary Golden Bear in Huntington Beach
January 16-19, 1976 Golden Bear, Huntington Beach, CA: Kingfish [Friday-Monday]
Kingfish had had a successful East Coast tour with the Keith And Donna band, culminating with a two shows at Winterland (on December 19-20 '75) headlined by the Jerry Garcia Band. After a break, Kingfish played four nights at the Golden Bear in Southern California. The Golden Bear was at 308 Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach, an Orange County town midway between Long Beach and Newport Beach.

January 25, 1976 Keystone Berkeley, Berkeley, CA: Kingfish/James And The Mercedes [Sunday]
Thanks to Commenter JGMF for this date.

January 31, 1976 La Paloma Theater, Encinitas, CA: Kingfish [Saturday]
Encinitas was near San Diego. Phil Lesh and Ned Lagin had played a show at this theater on November 22, 1975, and the promoter booked a few other Dead-related shows as well. Since January 31 was a Saturday, I suspect there may be another booking in Southern California on this weekend.

February 6, 1976 Civic Auditorium, San Jose, CA: Elvin Bishop Group/Kingfish/Carrie Nation [Friday]
February 7, 1976: Winterland, San Francisco, CA: Elvin Bishop Group/Kingfish/Carrie Nation [Saturday]
Unlike Jerry Garcia, Kingfish was willing to play second on the bill at conventional local rock shows. Bishop was a headliner based on his hit "Fooled Around And Fell In Love." Carrie Nation were a band from Nevada City, CA, who had moved to Atlanta, and then back to the Bay Area, who played in a style broadly reminiscent of the Allman Brothers.

February 19-21, 1976 Electric Ballroom, Atlanta, GA: Kingfish  early and late shows all nights [Thursday-Saturday]
The Grateful Dead always had a good following in Atlanta, so it's no surprise that Kingfish could play three nights there without even a record.

Feb ??, 1976 Lisner Auditorium, GWU, Washington, DC: Kingfish
I have to think there are more dates than just three in Atlanta and one in DC. However, I don't know how long this East Coast tour actually was.

The cover of the debut album by Kingfish, released on Round Records in March 1976

>>March 1976 saw the release of the Kingfish album (Round RX-108) on United Artists/Round. Release dates were not exact in the 70s, but I think an approximate date of Tuesday March 9 seems likely. Some record stores would probably have already had the album by then, and FM stations would already have received promo copies.

March 7-8, 1976 The Savoy, San Francisco, CA: Kingfish [Sunday-Monday]
The Savoy was a tiny club in North Beach, on Grant Street. I think the band was just using these shows to get warmed up. Weir was not typcially inclined to schedule a lot of rehearsal time, so I think playing a few quiet local gigs was a way to get in shape.

March 10-13, 1976 The Roxy, West Hollywood, CA: Kingfish [Wednesday-Saturday]
The Roxy was Los Angeles' premier showcase club, out on the Sunset Strip (at 9009 Sunset Boulevard). It was standard practice for bands with a new album to play some dates at the Roxy, so that their record company could invite every dj and promo man, and buy them free drinks (which would ultimately be charged to the band). The fact that Kingfish took this route meant that they were trying for conventional rock success.

The March 11 early show was broadcast on KMET-fm. Former KSAN-fm dj Thom O'Hair was the host. United Artists would have subsidized this. There were probably early and late shows for every night, although there may not have been separate admissions.

March 15-16, 1976 Golden Bear, Huntington Beach, CA: Kingfish [Monday-Tuesday]
Thanks to Commenter GratefulSeconds, we know that Kingfish returned to the Golden Bear

March 19-20, The Backdoor, San Diego State College, San Diego, CA: Kingfish [Friday-Saturday]
Thanks to Commenter JGMF.

March 23, 1976 Keystone Berkeley, Berkeley, CA: Kingfish [Tuesday]
The Keystone Berkeley was perhaps the biggest of the Bay Area rock clubs, but the big dates were on weekends. Bands like Kingfish that could bring a good house on a weeknight were always welcome. The exact attendance did not matter as much as the amount of beer sold. Kingfish would play multiple sets, and the fans would get all hot from dancing, so the bar must have been busy indeed.

March 26, 1976 Masonic Temple, Scranton, PA: Kingfish (early and late shows) [Friday]
Kingfish seems to have played the Eastern seaboard to support their new album, but I do not think we have all the dates. Scranton was a few hours north of Philadelphia (the I-476 was not yet complete, so travel times were longer). The Grateful Dead and various members had played Scranton numerous times in the 1970s.

March 27, 1976 Calderone Theater, Hempstead, NY: Kingfish (early and late shows) [Saturday]
Hempstead, NY, in Long Island, was the home base of WLIR-fm, a station which emphasized live broadcasts. Many WLIR broadcasts were from a club called My Father's Place in nearby Roslyn, but they also broadcast from a local studio (Ultrasonic) and sometimes from the Calderone Theater. The early show was broadcast on WLIR, apparently on a delayed basis.

An ad for the Kingfish show at Princeton University on March 30, 1976, from the student newspaper (The Princetonian March 29, 1976)
March 30, 1976 Alexander Hall, Princeton U., Princeton, NJ: Kingfish [Tuesday]
The Princeton show was a midweek gig on a Tuesday night. Princeton had a lot of rock shows on campus during this era. I have to think there was one or two more shows during this week, as the Beacon show wasn't until Friday.

The cover of the 1996 cd of Kingfish Live In Concert, recorded by the King Biscuit Flower Hour at the Beacon Theater in Manhattan on April 3, 1976
April 3, 1976 Beacon Theater, New York, NY: Kingfish (early and late shows) [Sunday]
A professional photographer took some great photos . Both shows were recorded for the King Biscuit Flower Hour. The Biscuit probably broadcast their usual 25-minute highlight around June, on their syndicated FM radio show. Ultimately, both shows were released as a double cd in 1996, which stands as the definitive official live Kingfish release.

April 4, 1976 Bridges Gymnasium, New England College, Henneker, NH [Sunday]
Bands featuring members of the Grateful Dead were always welcome in small New England colleges (and still are, I believe).

April 6, 1976 Orpheum Theater, Boston, MA Kingfish/Les Dudek [Tuesday]
Les Dudek was a guitarist who had made his name in Florida playing on the Allman Brothers Brothers And Sisters album (on "Jessica" and "Ramblin' Man"). He had later moved to the Bay Area, where he toured with the Steve Miller Band and then Boz Scaggs. By 1976, he had released his first solo album on Columbia.

April 25, 1976 Student Union Ballroom, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT: Kingfish [Sunday]
The Grateful Dead had probably played this same ballroom in 1969. It does raise the question of whether Kingfish had toured all the way from Boston to Utah, and we are missing numerous dates, or whether they were just flying out for a Mountain West booking. I am more inclined to the latter. Since April 25 was a Sunday, I do suspect that there are Friday and Saturday booking (for April 23-24) somewhere as well, perhaps in Colorado.

April 28-29, 1976 River City, Fairfax, CA: Kingfish [Wednesday-Thursday]
After Kingfish returned home from their Eastern tour, they returned to playing local clubs.

May 13, 1976 Keystone Berkeley, Berkeley, CA: Kingfish [Thursday]

May 14, 1976 River City, Fairfax, CA: Kingfish [Friday]
River City was a small club in the Marin County town of Fairfax.

May 16, 1976 The Savoy, San Francisco, CA: Kingfish [Sunday]

May 18, 1976 Keystone Berkeley, Berkeley, CA: Kingfish [Tuesday]

May 23, 1976 Golden Hall, San Diego, CA: Joe Cocker/Kingfish [Sunday]
Since Kingfish opened for Joe Cocker on a Sunday, there may have been another Southern California show that weekend. Joe Cocker was probably backed by Stuff, the great band of New York session men.

An ad (probably from the SF Chronicle) for the Kingfish/Charlie Daniels Band/Cate Brothers show on Friday, May 28, 1976 at Winterland. Charlie Daniels had a national profile, but San Francisco was still the Grateful Dead's town.
May 28, 1976 Winterland, San Francisco, CA: Kingfish/Charlie Daniels Band/Cate Brothers [Friday]
The Charlie Daniels Band current album would have been Saddle Tramp, on Epic. Earl and Ernie Cate were Levon Helm's nephews. They had recently released their debut album on Asylum Records (JGMF suggests that The Rowans may have replaced the Cate Brothers). Based on the newspaper ad, it appears that Kingfish were the headliners. Charlie Daniels had far more of a following nationally, but this was San Francisco, and Weir and Torbert had the home court advantage. Note, however, that Kingfish was not headlining both weekend nights, as Winterland was dark on Saturday, although that may have been because Bob Marley was at The Paramount, along with Roy Buchanan and Firefall at Berkeley Community Theater. Nonetheless, Jerry Garcia could have drawn against Bob Marley and Roy Buchanan, but Bob Weir and Charlie Daniels did not.

Keep in mind that there is a circulating tape of a Grateful Dead rehearsal at The Orpheum on the night of May 28. It seems that Weir would have rehearsed, and then he and any relevant crew members--Rex Jackson was Kingfish's road manager--would have gone over to Winterland.

The Grateful Dead were on tour from June 3 through June 29, followed by a week of July shows at the Orpheum in San Francisco (July 12-18). Kingfish did not perform during this period.

July 21, 1976 Roxy Theater, Northampton, PA: Kingfish [Wednesday]
Weir and Kingfish seem to have gone out for one final push the week after the Orpheum shows.

July 23, 1976 Auditorium Theater, Chicago, IL: Kingfish [Friday]
Given that this was on a Friday, I would have to think there was another Kingfish date in the Midwest on Saturday night (July 24). The Dead had just played the Auditorium Theater the previous month as part of their "Return" tour.

July 28, 1976 Pinecrest, Shelton, CT: Kingfish [Wednesday]
The Pinecrest Country Club in Shelton, CT, was a semi-regular concert venue in the 1970s. This was a Wednesday night, so a suburban place like Pinecrest was a good place to pick up a paying booking on the road. Apparently a professional photographer has some pictures, although I have not seen them.

July 30, 1976: Wollman Rink, Central Park, New York, NY: Kingfish Schaeffer Music Festival [Friday]
The Schaeffer Music Festival was a month-long series of rock shows in Central Park, sponsored by Schaeffer Beer. The festival is fondly remembered by New Yorkers of a certain era.

July 31, 1976 The Casino, Asbury Park, NJ: Kingfish/Flying Burrito Brothers [Saturday]
The Casino at Asbury Park has been made famous by the lyrics of the first few Bruce Springsteen albums (Madame Marie was probably still telling fortunes  in person at this time). The Casino was the smaller venue on the boardwalk, as Kingfish wasn't big enough for the much larger convention center nearby.

The Flying Burrito Brothers had reformed, again, and at this time the only original member was pedal steel guitarist Sneeky Pete Kleinow. Other members were Joel Scott Hill (guitar, vocals), Gib Gilbeau (fiddle, guitar, vocals), Gene Parsons (drums, vocals) and ex-Rider Skip Battin (bass, vocals). The band had just released the Columbia album Airborne. I saw the Burritos around this time and they were a terrific live band, even if their album was run-of-the-mill compared to the groundbreaking music of earlier years.

August 1, 1976 Calderone Theater, Hempstead, NY: Kingfish [Sunday]
Bob Weir's initial run with Kingfish ended with a Sunday night show in the well-conquered territory of Long Island, where Kingfish and The Grateful Dead had played many times before. The next night the Grateful Dead would play Colt Stadium in Hartford, CT, and Weir would not play with Kingfish for about four more years.

Appendix 1-Album Credits
Released March 1976
  • Lazy Lightnin' (Weir / Barlow)
  • Supplication (Weir / Barlow)
  • Wild Northland (Torbert / Hovey)
  • Asia Minor (Carter / Gilbert / Quigley / Hovey)
  • Home to Dixie (Kelly / Cutler / Barlow / Weir)
  • Jump For Joy (Carter / Gilbert)
  • Good-Bye Yer Honor (Torbert / Hovey / Kelly)
  • Big Iron (Marty Robbins)
  • This Time (Torbert / Kelly)
  • Hypnotize (Torbert / Kelly)
  • Bye and Bye (Traditional arr. Weir / Barlow)
  • Bob Weir - guitar, vocals
  • Dave Torbert - bass, vocals
  • Matthew Kelly - guitar, harp, vocals
  • Robby Hoddinott - guitar, slide guitar
  • Chris Herold - drums, percussion
Additional musicians;
  • J.D. Sharp - string symphonizer (This Time, Lazy Lightnin' and Hypnotize)
  • Pablo Green - percussion (Hypnotize)

  • Producer - Dan Healy, Bob Weir
  • Arrangements - Kingfish
  • Recording - Dan Healy, Kingfish
  • Engineer - Rob Taylor
  • Mastering - George Horn
  • Technical consultants - Jim Furman, Furman Sound Service, Tim Hovey
  • Production assistance - Richard Hundgren, Dean Layman
  • Cover painting - Philip Garris
  • Trident logo - James A Nelson III
  • Photography - Bob Marks
  • Special thanks - Frankie, Rondelle, Otis, Frank, Bruce
  • Recorded at Ace's

Appendix 2:
David Nelson>Dave Torbert>Matt Kelly>Bob Weir Performance History Posts
I have an ongoing project to sort out the histories of the various Grateful Dead spin-off bands that played multiple shows but did not include Garcia. Some of these posts have complete lists of shows, and others just emphasize the personnel changes and time frames. In this list, I have not included posts about individual shows or events that feature some of these bands.

The Good News Performance History 1966
--The Good News were from Redwood City, CA, and featured Dave Torbert and Chris Herold

New Delhi River Band Performane History Summer 1966 (David Nelson I)
--Palo Alto's second psychedelic blues band, The New Delhi River Band, featured David Nelson, Dave Torbert and Chris Herold
New Delhi River Band Performance History Fall 1966 (David Nelson II)
New Delhi River Band Performance History July 1967-February 1968 (David Nelson IV)
David Nelson Musical Activities February 1969-May 1969 (David Nelson V)
--After the demise of The New Delhi River Band, David Nelson lays fairly low

New Riders Of The Purple Sage Personnel 1969-81
--I have numerous posts about the New Riders, but this post has a complete list of their personnel changes from 1969-1981. Jerry Garcia's last performance as a member of the New Riders was on October 31, 1971

Shango, Horses and Matt Kelly 1968 (Matt Kelly I)
--The backstory to Matt Kelly's links to the Grateful Dead start with his band Shango, with Torbert and Herold, back in 1968.
Gospel Oak/Mountain Current/33 1969-73 (Matt Kelly II)
--The Matt Kelly story goes to England, the Santa Cruz Mountains and throughout the United States
Lonesome Janet>Kingfish Performance History 1973-74 (Matt Kelly III, Kingfish 0) [in development]
--Matt Kelly returns to the Santa Cruz Mountains with the predecessor to Kingfish, and then Dave Torbert joins up in early 1974

Bob Weir and Kingfish Tour History Fall 1974 (Kingfish I, Matt Kelly IV)
--Bob Weir joins Kingfish, as the Dead have stopped performing
Bob Weir and Kingfish Tour History January-August 1976 Kingfish IV, Matt Kelly VII) [this post]
Kingfish Performance History 1977-82 (Kingfish V, Matt Kelly VIII)  [in development]
--after Weir's departure, and until his return, Kingfish had a strange, complicated history

Bob Weir Band Beginnings 1977 [in development]
--an overview of the connections between the Bob Weir Band and Bobby And The Midnites
Kingfish with Bob Weir 1984-87 (Kingfish VI, Matt Kelly IX)
--Weir began to re-appear regularly, though not permanently, with Kingfish in late 1984

In the interests of completeness, here are the other spinoff group posts: