Friday, December 30, 2011

Unknown Percussionist, 3rd Set: December 31, 1982, Oakland Auditorium, Oakland, CA

My notes for the 3rd set of the Grateful Dead's 12-31-82 show in Oakland
In the 1960s, no one remembered anything about Grateful Dead concerts. In the 70s, we started to remember highlights, but didn't take notice of every detail. By the 1980s, however, there were a fair number of us trying to take note of everything. We didn't know each other, but one by one we started to make connections, and when our own silos of information got merged, all sorts of details fell into place. Deadbase was the first great collective Grateful Dead historical project, remarkable for prefiguring widespread internet use by a decade. The first edition of Deadbase arrived in my mailbox in 1987, and it set the table for all of us to start fitting the pieces together. Today, thanks to Deadlists, The Archive, and numerous blogs, all sort of information is available. That is particularly true for Grateful Dead shows from the 1980s onward, as numerous Deadheads were making a point of noting everything.

Nonetheless, looking back on my old notes, now and again I come across tiny mysteries from the 1980s that remain to be resolved. The Grateful Dead's final show at the old Oakland Auditorium Arena, prior to its upgrade as the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, was on December 31, 1982. The guests for the third set were Etta James and the Tower of Power horns. They played a five-song set of R&B songs that for the most part had been long-gone since the Pigpen era: "Lovelight" (sung by Weir), "Tell Mama" (Etta's big hit, not the Savoy Brown song), "Baby What You Want Me To Do," "Hard To Handle" and "Midnight Hour." It was a great little set, with Etta in fine voice and the always-on Tower horns providing a serious jolt, and the Dead stayed tight in the pocket and played a rocking, uptempo set.

However, as my notes (above) attest, the ensemble was joined for all five numbers by an additional percussionist. The Dead didn't really "need" a third drummer, what with two drummers and a driving horn section, but I just assumed the guest was some pal of Mickey Hart's. While I never actually took notes at the show itself--even I draw the line--I always wrote down my notes before I went to bed, so my memory was fresh. You can see that I wrote "Airto-percussion," and then crossed his name out with a question mark. I must have looked at a picture at Airto and seen that it could not have been him. I had seen Airto before with the Dead, but I had thought that perhaps he had shaved his beard, but a closer look at the back of some album must have assured me it was not him.

I remember a wiry white guy, about 40ish, long sideburns but losing his hair on top, playing timbale-style with two sticks. And he was a real drummer, too, tucking into Mickey and Billy's  rhythm machine like a real pro. He wasn't just some token guy goofing along on the congas. Over the ensuing weeks and years, I always figured I would see a reference to a tape or a photo of this guy playing with the Dead on New Year's Eve 82/83, but I never have. Everyone else who sat in with the Grateful Dead seems to have put it on his or her website, but whoever this guy was, I can't find him.

It's not a big deal, really, that there was an additional percussionist for the last set of the Grateful Dead's New Year's Eve show on December 31, 1982. But as a Deadhead you make the decision that you are either going to pursue the details or you aren't. While I have never been a guy who worries much about tape sources and lineage, for example (though I give thanks to the people who do), I obsess far past the normal about venues and guests, because I made the decision that it was something that I Needed To Know. Thus for me, after 29 years, this little mystery about the Dead's guest percussionist is still hanging out there, but I haven't given up yet. One of these days--hopefully in the Comment section--someone is sure to know, and then I can check it off.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Jerry Garcia Roots And Branches

Oakland Tribune ad, May 5, 1974
I recently came across an ad for Jerry Garcia with the Great American String Band at the Keystone Berkeley on Sunday, May 5, 1974.The Keystone Berkeley's regular display ad in the Sunday Oakland Tribune (of May 5) had the GASB at the top of their ad, since the show was taking place the very same night. The show itself has been known and listed on The Jerry Site for some time, so this was not new territory. However, some of my recent research has focused on the ways in which Jerry Garcia both tapped into and influenced American music in his time. Garcia's remarkable career after he became famous has been characterized by a wide variety of collaborations with numerous musicians, some brief and some substantial. I found myself looking at this ad for the first half of May at the Keystone Berkeley in the context of whether Garcia had a connection to the various acts that were booked. It was striking to see that of the other seven acts booked between May 6 and May 19, Garcia had a distinct connection to four of them.

This post is more of a meditation than analysis. One of the acts was a huge influence on Garcia, some of the acts are connected to Garcia over what would have been events prior to 1973, and some of them are connected to him through events that had not yet occurred, and some fall into more than one category. I am considering them all equally, however, from the perspective of our 20/20 hindsight, as a demonstration of how a seemingly random listing for the Keystone Berkeley offers up a host of Garcia connections.

Monday, May 6: Buck White and The Greenbriar Boys
The Greenbriar Boys were a tremendously influential bluegrass band, whose first album on Vanguard was specifically cited as an inspiration to the likes of Garcia and David Nelson. 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 of The Black Mountain Boys (which no one has ever seen, to my knowledge) was modeled on the cover of a Greenbriar Boys album.

The Greenbriar Boys released four albums, the last in 1966, and toured up until 1970. The original band featured guitarist John Herald, Bob Yellin on banjo and Eric Weissberg on mandolin. Weissberg was replaced by Ralph Rinzler in about 1962, who in turn was replaced by Frank Wakefield in 1966. Rinzler, among many other things, was the mentor of his teenage neighbor in Hackensack, NJ, David Grisman. Wakefield, among many other things, was in The Good Old Boys with David Nelson, who released an album on Round Records in 1976, produced by Jerry Garcia.

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. Presumably they were backing Buck White, a bluegrass artist who sang with his daughters. The Whites would become better known many years later for appearing in the film Brother Where Art Thou. Although the busy Garcia may not have stayed over at the Keystone the next night, I would be very surprised if David Grisman and Richard Greene did not drop by.

Thursday May 9-El Chicano/Friday May 10-John Lee Hooker
Although both of these acts are pretty good, there were no meaningful Garcia connections that I am aware of.

Saturday, May 11-Willie Bobo and Luis Gasca
Willie Bobo was a well-known percussionist and Latin bandleader who appeared on numerous great Latin and jazz albums throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Trumpeter Luis Gasca was mainly based in the Bay Area, but he was not only a well-known Latin jazz artist in the Bay Area in the 1960s, but a crucial bridge between Latin music and rock music in the 1970s. He was a few years older than some of the younger Latinos playing rock music in San Francisco, particularly Carlos Santana and his brother Jorge.

Luis Gasca was good friends with the Santana brothers and all their band members, and was instrumental in the formation of Malo (you recall "Suavecito"). Gasca also led a lot of late night North Beach jam sessions at places like Cesar's (named after owner Cesar Ascarrunz) and other clubs. Garcia was reputed to be a sometime visitor to these jams. I am even convinced that Garcia actually played an advertised date with Gasca in late 1972, but that is too long a tangent to get into here.

In any case, Luis Gasca and Jerry Garcia were at least  occasional jamming partners. As a footnote, Gasca played the trumpet part on the studio version of "Mexicali Blues," released on Bob Weir's Ace.

Sunday, May 12-Gideon And Power
Gideon And Power were a mostly African-American band from the East Bay, who played "Gospel-Rock." The lead singer (either Gideon or Power) had a church background, so he apparently sang rock in a kind of gospel style. The band worked the clubs in the Bay Area for much of the 1970s, mostly in the East Bay, without any huge success. I'm not aware of any album releases. However, I do know that in the latter '70s, the keyboard player for Gideon And Power was one Melvin Seals. I don't know if he was playing with them in 1974--probably not yet. Seals went on from Gideon And Power to play with Elvin Bishop, which is where Garcia first heard him.

Thursday-Friday, May 16-17-Stoneground
Although Stoneground was a San Francisco band, all the Garcia connections were at least one step removed.

Saturday-Sunday, May 18-19-Cold Blood
Cold Blood had been one of the first bands in San Francisco to play soul music with psychedelic overtones. The Loading Zone had been the ones to kick the door open, and Sly And The Family Stone were the ones who transformed music, but Cold Blood was right there amongst the originals, even if they weren't quite on the level of Tower Of Power, much less Sly. Still, Cold Blood was an enjoyable band, with a big horn section backing powerhouse vocalist Lydia Pense.

From about 1968 to 1971, Cold Blood was booked by Bill Graham's Millard Agency, who also booked the Grateful Dead for some of that period. As a result, Cold Blood had played on many bills with the Grateful Dead, particularly on the West Coast in the 1969-70 period. Also, while Cold Blood went through a lot of members, with Lydia Pense the only really constant member of the group, they had used Oakland's finest, Gaylord Birch, as their drummer in 1973 (he appears on the live cd release Vintage Blood, recorded in 1973 and released in 2001). Some years later Birch would be the drummer in Reconstruction (in 1979), with an encore appearance in the Jerry Garcia Band in late 1985 (Oct 85-Feb 86).

I am the first to concede that the scholarly value of this analysis is close to zero. It's interesting, however, to take a look at a typical Keystone bill and see Garcia connections all over the place. The branches of Garcia's musical tree are tangled indeed. Garcia touched bluegrass, jazz, rock and funk music in the Bay Area, and was a major rock star besides, and however lightly, his roots and branches spread much wider than one realizes.

Friday, December 16, 2011

May 1964, Noncommissioned Officers Club, Tyndall Air Force Base, Panama City, Florida: Jerry Garcia, Sandy Rothman, Scott Hambly (Redwood Canyon Ramblers)

A poster for an August 27, 1960 show by The Redwood Canyon Ramblers. The poster was designed by Rambler bassist Tom Glass, aka Ned Lamont, who was later in The Jazz Mice
A foundational story in the Jerry Garcia saga is his cross-country trip in the Summer of 1964. Garcia and Sandy Rothman took Jerry's old Corvair and drove to Indiana, Florida, Alabama, Pennsylvania and points in between, meeting other bluegrass musicians and seeing America. In some ways, it prefigured Garcia's whole career, as he spent most of the rest of his life crisscrossing the United States playing music. While Dennis McNally and Blair Jackson describe the trip in some depth, a tiny detail has generally been overlooked. Given the lengthy history of Jerry Garcia’s performances throughout America, however, its interesting to contemplate that his first out-of-state performance was at the Non-Commissioned Officers Club of Tyndall Air Force Base, near Panama City, FL, in May, 1964.

Dennis McNally described Jerry Garcia’s cross-country bluegrass odyssey with Sandy Rothman in great detail (pp.70-73). In the early Summer of 1964, Jerry and Sandy drove in Jerry’s Corvair, traveling with the White Brothers to St. Louis, and then onwards to visit Neal Rosenberg in Indiana. For a break, they drove to Florida to visit their Berkeley friend Scott Hambly, a former member of Berkeley’s first bluegrass band, The Redwood Canyon Ramblers. Hambly was in the Air Force, but Rothman and the short-haired Garcia spent a few days in Florida picking with their old friend.

The Redwood Canyon Ramblers had been Berkeley's first indigenous bluegrass band, forming in 1958. Mayne Smith (guitar), Hambly (mandolin) and Rosenberg (banjo) had met in High School in Berkeley in the 50s. They had learned bluegrass from records and the occasional California visit from a bluegrass legend. Rosenberg went on to graduate school in June 1962, and the Ramblers went mostly dormant. However, as Berkeley and the Bay Area's first bluegrass band, the Ramblers were an inspiration to younger bluegrass musicians like Herb Pedersen, Eric Thompson, Rick Shubb, Butch Waller and Jerry Garcia.

Rosenberg went on to become a famous scholar of bluegrass music and a professional academic, as well as the manager of the Brown County Jamboree in Bean Blossom, Bill Monroe's bluegrass festival in Indiana. As the manager of the festival, Rosenberg was "Mr. Tapes" in the bluegrass world, the bluegrass equivalent of Marty Weinstein, Bob Menke or Dick Latvala. Garcia and Rothman went to Bean Blossom not only to hear the music but to collect tapes as well.

While the trip to the Air Force base was just one stop on a lengthy trip—Garcia subsequently went back to Bean Blossom, and then Pennsylvania, where he met David Grisman—it is generally unremarked that McNally identified Jerry Garcia’s first out-of-California gig. McNally writes
The three of them [Garcia, Rothman and Hambly] even played a show at the Noncommissioned Officers Club at Tyndall, but a few days of the vicious insect life of Florida drove Jerry and Sandy to Dothan, Alabama to hear the well-known players Jim and Jesse McReynolds
Presumably, Garcia played banjo, Hambly mandolin and Rothman played guitar. There were many Southerners in the Armed Services, and Bill Monroe and Flatt and Scruggs had been Grand Ole Opry stars in the 1950s, so plenty of Airmen would have been at least generally familiar with bluegrass music. The trio of young Californians would probably have been fairly well received by whatever modest crowd was there.

Tyndall Air Force Base is just Southeast of Panama City, FL, on the Gulf Coast in the Florida Panhandle. Western Florida is nearer to Alabama than Miami, both culturally and geographically. Garcia had been in the Army, so he would have known what to expect on a military installation. Nonetheless, Western Florida is really the South in a way that Miami is not. The troops would have been quite receptive to bluegrass music, but in many ways Florida must have been a foreign country to the California-born Garcia.

Panama City is about 750 miles south from Indiana, and its a remarkable testament to youth that Garcia and Rothman drove to Indiana, and for a "break" drove 750 more miles to the Gulf. They then apparently returned to Bean Blossom, and then went home by way of Pennsylvania, which itself was in the wrong direction. Of course, this strange trip is not unlike the Grateful Dead's touring schedule in the late 60s, and however strange it may have been, it seems to have fulfilled a need in Garcia to be a traveling man, so that when the dust hit his shoes he knew it was time to move. Even the ambitious Garcia could hardly have imagined that a show at an Air Force Base club in Florida was just the first of thousands of shows outside of California.

(an earlier version of this post appeared here)

Friday, December 9, 2011

February 24, 1974: "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" encore, Winterland

The cover to the Bob Dylan and The Band lp Planet Waves, released January 1974
I was reminded recently that on the third night of a three-night stand at Winterland in February, 1974, the Grateful Dead encored with Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue." Since the song seemingly dropped out of the band's repertoire in 1969, it had only appeared a few times in 1970 and twice in one week in 1972. The sole 1974 performance was the Dead's last version of the song until it returned to a somewhat regular part of the rotation in 1981. While it's often impossible to say why the Grateful Dead played specific numbers at specific times, I think the unexpected version of "Baby Blue" was a result of the Grateful Dead having seen Bob Dylan and The Band at the Oakland Coliseum Arena on February 11, 1974.

Bob Dylan, The Band, Planet Waves and the 1974 Tour
From 1970 onwards, Bob Dylan had kept a very low profile. After Dylan's release of his disastrous Self-Portrait album in June, 1970, he made up for it with the excellent New Morning, released soon after in October. Nonetheless, Dylan made almost no public appearances and did not tour. Up until early '74, Dylan remained a cipher. According to various stories, he was enjoying family life, fighting with his manager or any other of a number of conspiratorial theories. Now and again he would do something, like act in the 1973 movie Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid, for which he released a soundtrack, but Dylan was off of rock's grid.  The likes of Rolling Stone suggested that Bob Dylan had "lost it," whatever exactly that might have meant.

At the end of 1973, however, word leaked out that Dylan had reunited with his old compatriots in The Band, and they would not only be releasing a new album, but touring. The Dylan/Band tour would be Dylan's first US tour since 1966. It is impossible to explain today how big a figure Bob Dylan was in the rock firmament at the time. Dylan and The Band played the largest indoor arenas in the United States, usually playing both afternoon and evening shows, and tickets were only available by mail order, a first. Bill Graham, the tour's promoter, announced that they were overwhelmed with ticket requests.

The album Planet Waves was released in January, 1974, just as the tour was beginning. It's a terrific album, although everybody usually forgets in light of the records that followed it, Blood On The Tracks (1975) and Desire (1976). Planet Waves was released on Asylum Records, rather than Columbia, suggesting (as later turned out to be the case) that much of Dylan's silence in the preceding years had to do with issues related to his manager, Albert Grossman, and thus Dylan's relations with his label, Columbia. Jerry Garcia, at least, probably agreed with my assessment of Planet Waves, since over the years he would perform three songs from it. Both "Going Going Gone" and "Tough Mama" were regular parts of the Legion Of Mary repertoire in 1975 and remained in the rotation, and 'Forever Young" turned up regularly many years later.

Bob Dylan and The Band's 1974 tour ran from January 3 (Chicago Stadium--pre-MJ) through February 14 (at The Forum in LA--early Kareem the end of the Jerry West era). Dylan and The Band played two shows at the Oakland Coliseum (Rick Barry era) on February 11, right near the end of the tour. Dylan's performances in each city were treated like major entertainment news events, very rare for rock shows at the time. At some point, probably in Joel Selvin's San Francisco Chronicle column, it was reported which and how many rock stars were backstage at the Dylan concerts. It was no surprise to find out that the Grateful Dead were among them.

"It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"
"It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" was first sighted in a Dead show in July of 1966. The band was surely familiar with the song from it's March, 1965 release on Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home album. However, I have to think that the Dead's arrangement owed a lot more to the single of the song released by Them in April, 1966. We certainly know that the band liked Them--who wouldn't?--because "Caution" was a jam based on "Mystic Eyes." Another factor to consider was that the Dead were quite unknown in 1966, and playing a song on the radio was one way to connect with audiences who had never heard the band's music. Since Them and Bob Dylan were both cool, the Dead could play a popular song while still making music they enjoyed. "Baby Blue" was a great song by any reckoning, however, and it was great for Garcia's soulful guitar parts, so the song stayed in the rotation long after other 1966 radio hits had dropped away.

After being dropped by the end of 1970, "Baby Blue" had still made two appearances in September, 1972 (Sep 23 and Sep 26). Since both appearances were in the second set, on some level the band must have had some plans for the song, but it disappeared again. I have no idea what caused band members to suggest or choose an obscure number that hadn't been played in some time, but certainly the singers had to have veto power. Thus Garcia had to be in favor of singing "Baby Blue" on February 24, 1974, for the encore on the final night of a three night stand at Winterland. The decision may have been casual, but Garcia must have had Dylan on the brain because he had just seen him live 13 days earlier, probably for the very first time. Even if Jerry just walked on stage for the final encore and said, "hey, let's do 'Baby Blue,'" it's hard not to think that having just seen Bob Dylan live put the idea in his head.

Garcia and the Dead performed so much, they didn't get out and about much to see other artists. On top of that, many of the artists that they covered were long gone. It wasn't like Garcia could go see Obray Ramsey and think "hey, we've gotta do 'Cold Rain And Snow' again," so the opportunities for such inspiration were few. Dylan's unique status with respect to rock and folk music and the Grateful Dead meant that the band seems to have made a rare field trip to see him play, so they must all have had a little Dylan on the brain.

The only possible point of comparison would have been the Dead's visit to see the Rolling Stones at Oakland Coliseum Arena on November 9, 1969, a momentous occasion for different reasons. I suppose we could stretch things and suggest that the Dead started performing "Not Fade Away" in a Rolling Stones-style arrangement in December 1969, that might have perhaps been inspired by the Stones, but that's a bridge too far, even for me. I think the February 24, 1974 encore of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" stemmed directly, if perhaps unconsciously, from the band seeing Bob Dylan live on February 11, and for now it seems to stand as a truly unique sequence of events.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Jimmy Warren-electric piano

The back cover to Jerry Garcia's 1982 lp Run For The Roses, with Jimmy Warren on piano
When Deadheads discuss the various musicians who played with Jerry Garcia in his many projects, the same words come up over and over: talented, professional, even legendary. Even younger players with less of a pedigree are generally identified as being promising and good accompanists. These adjectives are testimonies to the high musical standards of the Jerry Garcia Band in its various incarnations. Yet for many fans there's one significant exception to the rollcall of band members: Jimmy Warren. Warren played Fender Rhodes electric piano with the Jerry Garcia Band from January 1981 until June 1982, and no one has a good word to say about his playing. However, Warren was in the Garcia Band for 17 months, and the band made some great music, so Garcia and John Kahn must have felt he brought something to the band, even if fans didn't. As part of my series reviewing the musical biographies of people who played with Jerry Garcia, I will attempt to summarize what little is known about Warren's career, and pose a hypothesis as to what musical goals Garcia and John Kahn were trying to accomplish.

Background: Jerry Garcia Band 1980 vs 1981
In late 1979, Jerry Garcia and John Kahn had put together a compact version of the Jerry Garcia Band, a quartet that included keyboardist Ozzie Ahlers and drummer Johnny De Foncesca. When De Foncesca died in an auto accident, Gregg Errico was drafted for a Summer 1980 tour, but the Garcia Band went dormant for the balance of the year. When the Garcia Band re-appeared in January 1981, it was with an entirely new lineup. All the evidence suggests that Garcia and Kahn had completely re-thought the entire band. Besides a new drummer, Daoud Shaw, who had played with Van Morrison, the new JGB featured two keyboard players, organist Melvin Seals and Jimmy Warren on Fender Rhodes. Seals was somewhat known to rock fans. I myself had seen him play with Elvin Bishop in 1979, and I knew he was an excellent player. Warren, however, was a complete mystery.

Garcia rarely if ever said anything from the stage in those days, so for a long time I didn't even know the name of his electric piano player. I had somehow figured out that Seals was the organ player, but I think I saw a listing in BAM Magazine, which mentioned the new band members and I learned Warren's name some months after he began performing with Garcia. I looked all over for any hints as to what bands Warren might have been in, but I drew a blank. In fact, I drew a blank for the next fifteen years. During Warren's 18 months ith the Jerry Garcia Band, it was hard to see why he was in the band. While Melvin Seals' swirling Hammond organ provided a sophisticated counterpoint to Garcia and Kahn, Warren stuck to the beat on his Fender Rhodes. Sometimes Warren wasn't very audible, and over the years listeners have criticized him for seeming to tie the band down. Warren took the occasional, brief solo, but his role clearly wasn't tied to that.

Garcia and Kahn weren't deaf, so they must have had musical reasons for keeping Warren in the Garcia Band for eighteen months. Blair Jackson quoted Kahn as having said that Warren was a friend, but he stayed in the band "too long." Garcia and Kahn placed a high premium on easy social relations with fellow band members, so that might explain his personal presence, but what musical role did they see Warren as serving? I think that Garcia and Kahn were consciously trying to frame themselves in the style of groups like The Band and Procol Harum, both of them musically attractive to Garcia. Both groups had two keyboard players, with a "lead" organ player (Garth Hudson and Matthew Fisher, respectively) and "rhythm" piano player (Richard Manuel and Gary Brooker). It's a nice concept, but Warren was nowhere near the talent level of either Richard Manuel (from The Band) or Gary Brooker (from Procol Harum).

However, I think that Garcia and Kahn had broader plans for the Garcia Band that are only plain in retrospect. It turned out that the 1981 version of the Jerry Garcia Band seemed to be constructed to take the best elements of the Garcia/Kahn aggregations that preceded it. The 1981 JGB was designed to have a spare, flexible drummer like Ron Tutt (Daoud Shaw), an airy, soulful Hammond player like Merl Saunders (Seals), a piano player to keep the rhythm like Keith Godchaux (Warren) and two female singers to enrich the vocals, like Donna Godchaux and Maria Muldaur. However, the vocalists were not introduced into the band until June of 1981, five months after Warren had begun playing with the band. Nonetheless, I think vocalists were planned as part of the group from the beginning. With the exception of an electric piano, the basic formulation of the Jerry Garcia Band remained the same for the rest of Jerry's career, even though the drummers and singers changed periodically.

I think the concept of Jimmy Warren's role was twofold: Warren was providing some rhythm to free Garcia and Seals to improvise, and his straight-ahead playing was intended as an anchor for the vocalists, who might have found it hard to sing vocal parts in unison when no one in the band could be guaranteed to stick to the basic chords. Although Warren wasn't a high-end player, which Garcia surely knew, the simple role that he was intended to play would have bored a more sophisticated player like Ozzie Ahlers, so I think Garcia chose a younger, more basic player who would be happy to just play a role. Presumably, however, Warren's 'rhythm piano' role didn't bring enough and Melvin Seals was so good that Warren himself could be dispensed with. After a June 24, 1982 show, Warren left the Jerry Garcia Band and dropped off the musical map.

Who Was Jimmy Warren?
The question of Jimmy Warren's roots and branches are more problematic. The only trace I have ever been able to find about his pre-JGB career was his membership in a Marin County 'New Wave' band called Wet Nurse. My sole source of information is the excellent Bay Area Bands site, which focuses on mostly long-gone Marin County bands. The entry, in its entirety, apparently written by guitarist Ernie Stires, says
Wet Nurse was an offshoot of the band The Cascades. The Cascades, formed in 1976 played a mixture of originals, and soft rock. Ernie and Boom Boom went on to form Wet Nurse after the demise of the Cascades.
Wet Nurse was primarily punk, and was truly cutting edge at the time. The band was famous locally for their costumes, and wild antics on stage. Working with a limited repertoire, Wet Nurse was a band capable of extreme highs and lows. The band worked with many notable Bay Area groups including Huey Lewis, Nick "The Greek" Gravenites, and Clover.
In 1978 a demo 45 was produced with "Toots and Hot Tubs" on the A side, and "Bar Wars" on the B side. Huey Lewis produced, and the tracks were cut at the legendary "Church" in Marin County, and Different Fur, San Francisco.
At a time when well orchestrated, and arranged rock was all the rage, Wet Nurse broke through and added a little style, and volume to the Bay Area club scene in the late 1970's. (Ernie Stires)
1978 "Toots and Hot Tubs" b/w "Bar Wars" (demo single)
The only other shred of information about Wet Nurse was on the site of Marin singer/songwriter Liz Stires, who besides being Ernie's sister, was one of the first two female singers in the 1981 Jerry Garcia Band. She was also Jimmy Warren's girlfriend at the time (the other singer, Essra Mohawk, was the wife of drummer Daoud Shaw). According to Liz Stires' Facebook page (she is still an active singer, performer and songwriter in Marin), she, too was a member of Wet Nurse. This seems likely, but she was not specifically mentioned on the Bay Area Bands site. The personnel of Wet Nurse was
  • Ernie Stires - guitar

  • Jim "Boom Boom" Hite - fretless bass

  • Steve Bajor - drums

  • Hunter Starbird - vocals

  • Jimmy Warren - keyboards

  • Warner Yull Thorton - percussion

I have never heard the 1978 single. I assume that Wet Nurse was somewhere in the general vein of Blondie, The Mutants or The Avengers, but of course I have no real idea. It does seem a strange background for a future member of the Jerry Garcia Band (I am aware that there is a YouTube video attributed to Wet Nurse, but it doesn't include a keyboard part, so whether or not it is the same band doesn't matter from the point of view of Jimmy Warren's history).  

Jimmy Warren's Entry Into The Jerry Garcia Band
Steve Parish alludes to Warren's peculiar entry into the JGB, in a Blair Jackson interview (thanks to LIA for finding this)
Blair Jackson asks him, "Who was Jimmy Warren, and how did he get that gig?"
Parish: Well, you know something, Blair, you're talking now about the "shadow people" that walk in and out of the scene of the Grateful Dead --
Jackson: It always seemed like a guy of limited talents, and you always wonder how a guy like that gets in a band like that...
Parish: Well, that's an interesting question.... Jimmy was a mystery to all of us. Jerry and him had a nefarious relationship, and one day we were at the rehearsal hall and Jimmy came down with a Rhodes and Jerry said, "Set him up. Set his Rhodes up." And I said "Where?" 'Cause we had a pretty tight little setup, you know. He said, "He's gonna come play with us tonight." I think we were playing at the Keystone in the city and...he had Jimmy play way in the back....behind Melvin's organ....He was set in the dark, in the
shadows and I thought at first he was just trying to learn the music, but it was the only time I ever saw Jerry put anybody in the band -- and understand this, Blair -- through the years, people ended up in that band that shouldn't have been there at times -- (Laughter) -- people that just came in and sat in and wouldn't leave (laughter). There were people brought in -- at one time, Tom Fogerty played in that band, and we had a great time with him. Merl [Saunders] would bring other people in, but Jimmy was something that Jerry and John [Kahn] -- they wanted him to play there, and it was for other reasons besides the music. It's the only time that ever happened. He didn't last very long, either.
To his credit, he tried to fit in and he was a wonderful guy, Jimmy -- he was really a good-hearted guy -- but he had other problems that were overshadowing him being able to go and be a full-on musician. And he did travel with us on the road, too.
David Gans: You're a diplomat, Steve.
Parish: He was a "shadow person," definitely a "shadow person."
Warren's peculiar entry into the band raises the spectre that Warren's friendship with Garcia and Kahn was predicated on certain bad habits, and they may well have been. I would point out, however, that with the exception of Melvin Seals and perhaps some short-timers, most of the keyboard players in Garcia's side bands apparently had a variety of unhealthy predilections as well, and I choose not to dwell on them in this blog. My interest in Jimmy Warren has to do with what musical part Garcia and Kahn thought he could play.

In fact, Steve Parish's then-20-years-past memory is a bit clouded, perhaps on purpose, which is understandable. In fact, Warren lasted considerably longer than some other members of the Jerry Garcia Band, but he seems to have had a small enough impact that Parish has fogged up the timeline. It is also interesting, in passing, to see Parish's remark that "people came and sat in and just wouldn't leave," but that clearly doesn't apply to Warren, since Garcia and Kahn wanted him to stay. Warren played piano on a few tracks on Run For The Roses, recorded in the Fall of 1981, and Garcia and Kahn could have easily used another player, or had Seals or Kahn overdub the parts, so it isn't as simple as to say that Warren was merely a mistake.

The other interesting part is the suggestion that the Garcia Band was performing with Melvin Seals prior to Warren's arrival, and that Warren was simply put on stage at a place like The Stone or The Catalyst without any rehearsal whatsoever. Are there any January '81 tapes of the JGB that only have Melvin Seals, and without Jimmy Warren? That might allow us to date Warren's arrival (update: the first two January '81 shows, on Jan 22 and 23 at Keystone Palo Alto,  appear to be without Warren. JGMF has determined that Warren's debut was at the Old Waldorf in San Francisco on January 27, 1981).

Jimmy Warren's Departure From The Jerry Garcia Band
Blair Jackson quotes John Kahn as admitting that "things got kind of out of control around then. Jimmy Warren was just sort of a friend. It didn't work out and it went on too long..." (p.321). Warren's last gig with the Jerry Garcia Band was June 24, 1982 at the Capitol Theater in Passaic, NJ. When the Garcia Band reappeared in October of that year, Seals handled all the keyboard chores himself. Liz Stires, Warren's then-girlfriend, seems to have left the band two days earlier, as her last show was on June 22 in Richmond. Whatever the reason that she left the band two days before the tour ended, it can't have been a good sign.

After June 24, 1982, I have seen no sign of Jimmy Warren as a professional musician, nor do I have any idea what he might be doing or where he might be living. Given Jerry Garcia's stature, playing with the Garcia Band seems to have been the peak of his musical career, and I hope whatever problems Kahn alluded to were resolved, and that his life has been happy enough since then. Although Garcia fans tend to be fussily resentful of Warren's playing in the Garcia Band, its important to remember that Garcia and Kahn wanted him there, for whatever reasons, and given his 18-month tenure we can't just dismiss him as a mistake. Here's to hoping that Jimmy Warren, a friend or family member will have some insight some time in the future about Warren's role in the Jerry Garcia Band.

Friday, November 25, 2011

NRPS with Keith and Donna Godchaux, 1973

An ad in the Feb 22 '73 Village Voice, assuring that 'Special Friends' would join the New Riders
Keith Godchaux was a brilliant piano player for most of his time with the Grateful Dead and the Jerry Garcia Band, but by all accounts he was very shy. Indeed, without his wife he would never have been in the Grateful Dead at all. Keith could be a brilliant improviser, and one unfortunate byproduct of his shyness was the fact that he played very rarely with anyone outside the Grateful Dead or Jerry Garcia, so we rarely heard what he could add to other bands. One of the few markers of Keith's versatility was several occasions where he sat in with the New Riders of The Purple Sage in the Spring of 1973. Keith's appearances with the New Riders were too frequent to be mere coincidence, but have never really been discussed anywhere, to my knowledge. This post will attempt to rectify that by making a list of Keith's performances with the New Riders and attempting to draw some conclusions about his appearances.

When Keith Godchaux joined the Grateful Dead for their first tour in Fall 1971, the New Riders of The Purple Sage opened almost every show. However, the New Riders were in a state of transition, replacing Jerry Garcia on pedal steel guitar with Buddy Cage. It would not seem like the time to let a piano player sit in while getting used to a new member. In any case, I believe the 1971 tour to be the only one where Keith toured without Donna, and if Keith was as shy as he was reputed to be, he would not have been the sort to go up to the New Riders, whom he had (relatively speaking) just met, and say "hey, I'd love to sit in with you some time." The Dead and the New Riders continued to play together periodically throughout 1972, so by the end of the year, Keith would have had ample opportunity to hear all their material.

Donna Godchaux had a more forthright personality. On the New Riders' third album, Gypsy Cowboy, recorded in mid-1972, she sang harmony vocals on a few songs. In fact, Donna was an obvious choice, given that she was an experienced Mussel Shoals session singer (she sang on Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds" and the first Boz Scaggs album, for example), and she was a friend of the band. More importantly, however, the sociable Donna would surely have made clear to the Riders that she would be delighted to sing on their records, and the band was all the better for it.

By late 1972, the New Riders of The Purple Sage were at an interesting crossroads. I myself was a huge New Riders fan, and as a naive suburban High School student who knew almost nothing about country music, the Riders seemed somewhat more unique than they actually were. I have to think, however, that my naivete was duplicated in suburbs all over the country, and there was an opportunity for country rock bands to capture fans who could appreciate country music as long as it had a long-haired sensibility not rooted in Nashville. On record, the New Riders sounded great, as Buddy Cage and David Nelson layered as many guitars as needed to get a rich sound. As the New Riders had gotten more popular, however, and played larger and larger venues, the fact was they had started to sound kind of tinny. In fact, there were significant piano contributions on both their second and third albums, respectively (Nicky Hopkins and, oddly, Jerry Garcia on Powerglide and Mark Naftalin on Gypsy Cowboy), so the Riders were clearly aware of what a grand piano added to their sound.

John Dawson had basically been a folksinger prior to forming the New Riders, and in the early days of the band his lack of experience in a group really showed. However, as the New Riders continued to tour, Dawson became a more productive part of the group, but he was always more of a singer than a guitar player. By late 1972, Dawson could hold down his rhythm guitar parts all right, but he wasn't any kind of jammer. Since the New Riders consciously aspired to a version of the Bakersfield sound, Dave Torbert and Spencer Dryden tended to a spare sound that was in distinct contrast to the likes of Phil Lesh and Bill Kreutzmann. As a result, in a big place, when the band was rocking out on a solo, the New Riders sounded a bit thin with just Cage and Nelson spreading their wings. Onstage at least, a piano seemed like a logical addition, particularly if the guy could really honky tonk.

A partial scan of a 1974 bootleg lp of the March 18 '73 NRPS Felt Forum show
March 18, 1973, Felt Forum, New York, NY
The New Riders had a high profile show in Manhattan at the Felt Forum, which was housed in Madison Square Garden. The show was broadcast on WNEW-fm, New York's biggest rock radio station, and a Village Voice advertisement (up top) broadly hinted that the Dead would be sitting in. In fact, the entire broadcast was tremendous. The most memorable part today was a brief acoustic set in which Garcia (on banjo) and Weir led the Riders through a series of gospel-style bluegrass numbers, including "Swing Low Sweet Chariot." However, the entire set is a gem, featuring the classic New Riders with Dave Torbert, in their prime, including periodic guest appearances by Donna Godchaux, Bob Weir, Jerry Garcia (on electric guitar) and Ramblin' Jack Elliott (who opened the show). Nonetheless, the lasting impression for me was that Keith Godchaux sat in on grand piano for almost every song, and the New Riders sound is infinitely richer and more powerful with Keith's presence.

The Grateful Dead were between shows at the Nassau Coliseum, and their "surprise appearance" was clearly planned. That is particularly true with respect to Keith, since grand pianos have to be rented, delivered and tuned, and aren't simply hanging around a venue waiting to be played. Since Keith sat in on a grand, it wasn't a casual event. Whoever suggested that Keith sit in with the Riders, however, clearly knew what the band needed. Since the show was broadcast on WNEW, some of it ended up getting bootlegged on a white-label record, and I purchased it in about 1974. I was absolutely amazed at how great the New Riders sounded with Keith, and I couldn't understand why they didn't either use him as often as possible or get their own piano player.

A ticket for the Apr 4 '73 NRPS show at Clark U
April 4, 1973 Atwood Hall, Clark University, Worcester, MA (early and late shows)
It turns out I wasn't the only person who thought Keith sounded great with the New Riders. The Grateful Dead ended a leg of their tour on April 2, 1973, playing with the Riders at Boston Garden. Although the Dead and their crew must have gone home, Keith and Donna seem to have stuck with the Riders. When the New Riders headlined at Clark University, Keith played piano for the whole show. On top of that, not only did Donna provide harmonies on "She's No Angel" (early show) and "Long Black Veil" (late), but for both shows she took a solo turn, singing lead on Loretta Lynn's "You Ain't Woman Enough To Take My Man."

If Donna took a lead vocal, this wasn't no casual sit-in, this was a plan. Furthermore, since Keith played great piano, that too was not casual, since the piano had to be rented, delivered and tuned. Interestingly enough, the New Riders released highlights of the Clark U shows on an archival cd. To my ears, much as I love the sound of Keith with the Riders, the band sounds kind of ragged to me. From that point of view, I think releasing the Felt Forum show would have been better, but of course I already had that.

April 7, 1973 McGonigle Hall, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA (early and late)
Apparently, Keith and Donna also played at another New Riders show, at Temple University a few days later. The New Riders site is good as far as it goes, but I think there is a strong likelihood that Keith and Donna also played other dates as well (such as an unknown venue in Philadelphia on April 6 and Queens College in Flushing on April 9). The site lists Keith as playing electric piano on both early and late shows at Temple, and Donna as singing backups on a few numbers as well as singing lead on "You Ain't Woman Enough." I have a feeling that Keith and Donna played with the New Riders for the entire April leg of the tour, but I am unable to confirm any of that, or even be certain of all the dates.

May 26, 1973 Kezar Stadium, San Francisco, CA
The New Riders of The Purple Sage opened for the Grateful Dead and Waylon Jennings at Bill Graham's inaugural Day On The Green. According to one internet commentator, Keith sat in on piano. I have nothing else to go on, but it seems logical. Given that he had played with the Riders the month before, and that his piano was there, it seems logical that he would sit in. I wonder if Keith had sat in the week before at Santa Barbara (May 20)?

Update: a Commenter reports that Keith played on March 30 and 31 in Boston, but did not play in Santa Barbara (May 20) or Kezar (May 26). I suspect we have yet more Keith sightings with the Riders yet to be found in the March/April time frame.

Was There A Plan?
I don't think there was anything accidental about Keith sitting in with the New Riders, but I don't know how calculated it was. It is Keith's shyness that makes me certain that there had to be a concerted effort to get him to sit in. The interesting part to me would be how much of Keith's presence could be attributed to musical fun and how much might be attributed to other plans. In mid-1973, the Dead and the New Riders still shared management (through Jon McIntire) and a booking agency (through Sam Cutler). At the very least, there may have been a general awareness that the New Riders sounded better on stage with Keith on piano, particularly in a big place.

More interesting, however, would be the idea that since the New Riders had been created with some members of the Grateful Dead, perhaps they would have a higher profile if some other members continued to be adjuncts to the New Riders. Keith and Donna weren't Jerry Garcia and Mickey Hart, but they were members of the Dead and they added a lot to the New Riders on stage. Keep in mind also that if Keith and Donna had toured with some regularity with the New Riders, they would have gotten paid. I don't know how much of course, but other than Garcia and perhaps Weir, the members of the Dead were not well-off, and if Keith and Donna could have made a little money touring periodically with the New Riders, they might have appreciated it. Certainly the New Riders would have sounded better for it.

What Happened?
The history of the New Riders Of The Purple Sage is not that well documented, particularly after Jerry Garcia left the band. However, I think in late 1973 the New Riders shifted over to new management, although I am unable to define an exact timeline. Their new manager was Joe Kerr, who had been a college friend of George "Commander Cody" Frayne. Kerr was the manager of Commander Cody as well, and by 1974 Kerr was managing both groups. From mid-1973 onwards, Commander Cody and the New Riders played a lot of double bills together, particularly on the East Coast.

Cody went way back with the Riders--in fact he had played on their debut album (NRPS). When the Riders and the Airmen were billed together, often Cody sat in for the end of the show. The New Riders site identifies a few instances, but I think it was a pretty regular occurrence. The band would just leave the piano on stage, and Cody could join them at the appropriate points. I was fortunate enough to see Cody and the New Riders open for the Grateful Dead (at the Oakland Coliseum Stadium on June 8, 1974), and Cody sat in with the New Riders for a few numbers and sounded great. If there had been a plan afoot to have a regular guest piano player with the New Riders, the regular bookings with Commander Cody seemed to have filled that bill.

If there was ever a plan to have an ongoing relationship between Keith and Donna Godchaux and the New Riders of The Purple Sage, it appears that the change in New Riders management diverted them in another direction. It's really too bad, since the New Riders needed an booster shot after Dave Torbert left at the end of 1973, and Keith and Donna would have given them a different direction. It's impossible to say what might have been planned, or what might have happened. However, I cannot help but think that there are a number of New Riders dates in the Spring of 1973 where Keith and Donna were part of the band, and I hope to be able to pursue this in the Comments.

On May 23 and 24, 1975, the New Riders of The Purple Sage headlined at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, and the newly-formed Keith and Donna Band opened the show. It would be very interesting to know if Keith or Donna sat in for either show. The NRPS set has a setlist for the first night (May 23), which mentions nothing about either of them, although it does namecheck old friend Darlene DiDomenico joining in for "Whiskey," which suggests that there is a tape for that night at least. Given the divergent paths of the Dead and the New Riders by 1975, I wouldn't draw any specific conclusions from Keith's presence or absence, but it would still be interesting to know.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Johnny d'Fonseca Jr-drums

The 2004 Jerry Garcia Band cd After Midnight, recorded on February 28, 1980 with Johnny d'Fonseca Jr on drums
Johnny d'Fonseca Jr. was the drummer for the Jerry Garcia Band for a modest period of time in 1979 and 1980. He debuted with the JGB at the Keystone Berkeley on October 7, 1979, and his final show with the band was at the very same venue on March 27, 1980. In between d'Fonseca played on the East Coast tour in February 1980, including a show at Kean College in Union, NJ on February 28, 1980 that was released on Rhino Records as After Midnight in 2004. d'Fonseca was only about twenty years old at the time, but he was a fine drummer with a spare, swinging style that was reminiscent of Ronnie Tutt. Sadly, d'Fonseca died in an auto accident shortly after that, and a promising musical career was cut short along with his life. As a result, Garcia fans tend not to think about him much, not least because it's hard not to feel sad about it. However, despite his young age, d'Fonseca has a unique status in the Garcia universe that is worthy of note, so this post will attempt to accumulate the available information about him and celebrate his brief career.

Overview: Robert Hunter on Johnny d'Fonseca Jr.
The liner notes to the After Midnight set are written by the opening act, one Robert Hunter. Amidst some other interesting observations, Hunter says
Little Johnny Dee was the son of Big Johnny Dee, a jolly Jamaican carpenter who built Mickey's studio in the pastures of Novato. I remember Little Johnny as a quiet kid who grew up around the scene and liked to work out on Mickey's drum kit, which was always set up in the studio, getting tips from the master along the way. This tour was his first chance at the big time. It was damned sweet of Jerry to hand it to him, and the kid proved adequate to the chance. Johnny, Sr., had died a while before (cancer, I think) and Johnny, Jr., didn't have long to live, with a car wreck soon to write Paid to his future, but at least he got a chance to do his dream for a while.
Hunter, as usual, sums up the story succinctly and touchingly, but with clear eyes. Johnny d'Fonseca Jr grew up on Mickey Hart's ranch, practiced on Mickey's drums, with some advice from Mickey along the way, and ended up playing drums with Garcia, coming up through the farm system in the best possible way. Although details are few, it's still a nice story.

Johnny d'Fonseca Sr
Johnny d'Fonseca Sr was the brother of Grateful Dead manager Ron Rakow's wife, Lydia. Johnny Sr seems to have joined the scene around 1969, and according to McNally he was the caretaker and carpenter of Mickey Hart's ranch in Novato. While I think that d'Fonseca was focused on the building side of the equation rather than the electronic side, there were plenty of engineers in the Grateful Dead crew, so that aspect of the studio was covered. However, if a mixing board was getting rained on because the roof leaked, no amount of electronic wizardry was going to help. I assume that d'Fonseca Sr also kept the ranch going while Hart was on the road with the Grateful Dead in the 69-71 period.

Besides working for Mickey in Novato, d'Fonseca Sr seems to have taken on the role of "House Carpenter" formerly held down by Laird "Barney" Grant. Grant, a childhood friend of Garcia's from school days in Menlo Park, had been the Dead's first roadie, but he didn't like the travel. In the end, he stayed home and handled carpentry and construction work for the band in their rehearsal studio and presumably elsewhere. In 1972, Garcia brought Grant some land in Mendocino as a thirtieth birthday present, so d'Fonseca Sr seems to have taken over the carpentry role after Grant moved North. I believe De Fonsesca Sr did some construction work on Front Street Studios in the 1970s, which was just a big warehouse when the Garcia Band started rehearsing there in the middle of the decade.

D'Fonseca Sr is thanked on at least a couple of albums. On Mickey Hart's 1972 Rolling Thunder album, recorded at Mickey's ranch, "Special Thanks" are given to Rock Scully, Johnny D and others. On the 1974 Hunter album Tales Of The Great Rum Runners, the album liner notes thank "Johnny D Jr and Sr," a sign of how embedded in the scene the d'Fonseca's were. d'Fonseca must have been a young teenager then, and it had to be pretty heady to see yourself namechecked on the back of an album. There are some nice pictures of d'Fonseca Jr on the After Midnight album, and he looks pretty Italian to me, not surprising considering his name. How Italians ended up in Jamaica is somewhat of a mystery, but that of course is what makes islands interesting places.

The 1980 JGB and Johnny d'Fonseca Jr
I have never quite been able to figure out when Johnny d'Fonseca Jr was born, but supposedly he was not much older than twenty when he died. Since Hart bought the Novato ranch in 1969, d'Fonseca Jr would have been about 9 or so when he started going there. I don't know for a fact that Jr lived at the ranch the entire time, or even if he lived there at all, but he clearly spent a lot of time there growing up. As a result, he would have been comfortable with Garcia in a way that most twenty-somethings in 1980 would not have been. Veteran musicians like Ron Tutt or Paul Humphrey had no problem dealing with Garcia as a fellow professional, but Garcia had been a rock star since 1966, and for most younger, inexperienced musicians, that would have been hard to get past.

Without question, Garcia placed a high premium on having people in his band who he not only got along well with, but were easy going, low-maintenance band members. In most cases, this meant using fellow pros who were Garcia's age or even older. D'Fonseca was an exception, being so young, but since he probably treated Garcia like a friendly uncle, the vibe would have been much more low key than some star-struck kid. D'Fonseca Jr was a solid drummer, though not great, but his style was good for the band. Hunter called him "adequate to the chance," and given the musical challenges of playing with the constantly improvising Garcia, that's a pretty good benediction for a young player. If d'Fonseca could hold down the chair in 1980, he would have only gotten better with more opportunities.

Prior to playing with the Garcia Band, d'Fonseca Jr had played with a Marin County group called Logos. Originally formed in 1970, the band featured guitarist/songwriter Bernie Chiaravalle and bassist John Lovrien, along with various other people. Initially, the band apparently sounded like Soundhole, who backed Van Morrison for a while. Logos played the Marin club circuit for many years, and d'Fonseca joined the band in 1976. He stayed for three more years, but apparently left Logos when the opportunity to join the Garcia Band came up. Apparently, due to d'Fonseca's connections, Logos had recorded with Mickey Hart in his Novato barn, and they even released a single "Glad To Know." The Bay-Area-Band site has considerably more detail, including a photo of De Foncesca with Logos. Logos was a popular local band, and played gigs like the Lion's Share in San Anselmo and the inaugural Haight Street Fair in 1978. Bernie Chiaravalle's site has some good photos of the band in that period. (A 1986 Relix Records Robert Hunter album, Rock Columbia, lists d'Fonseca as the drummer, but since he had passed away several years earlier I assume this was some sort of error).

Jerry Garcia and John Kahn had mothballed the Jerry Garcia Band after November 4, 1978. When Keith and Donna Godchaux left the Grateful Dead, Kahn had started the jazz-rock band Reconstruction. Garcia was advertised as a "guest" of Reconstruction. The idea, according to Kahn, was that Reconstruction would continue to play with guitarists other than Garcia, and then perhaps Garcia would guest occasionally. There were in fact a few Reconstruction gigs without Garcia, in August of 1979, but it's unclear how much they actually played without him. The last Reconstruction show featuring Garcia was at Keystone Berkeley on September 22, 1979. Garcia and Kahn debuted their new lineup of the Jerry Garcia Band at the same venue two weeks later, on October 7, 1979.

The 1979 edition of the Jerry Garcia Band was a simple quartet, with keyboardist Ozzie Ahlers and d'Fonseca Jr on drums. Ahlers had played with Jesse Colin Young, The Edge (with Lorin Rowan) and Robert Hunter's Comfort. I assume Garcia had heard Ahlers play with Comfort when they opened for Garcia in 1978. While there was an obvious economic component to the quartet, in that a four-piece featuring local players like Ahlers and d'Fonseca was potentially more profitable than a six or seven piece lineup with backup singers and the like, I think Reconstruction was a factor as well. According to Kahn's original plan, Reconstruction and the JGB would have co-existed, with Garcia making occasional guest appearances with the former. If that had panned out, Garcia would have had a vehicle for playing some pretty far out music on the side, so it would have fit for him to have a simpler Garcia Band. However, by the time October 1979 rolled around, Reconstruction seems to have lost any momentum to sustain itself without Jerry on the bill.

"After Midnight-Eleanor Rigby"
The 1979-80 JGB played a pretty conventional setlist. They kept "Dear Prudence" from Reconstruction, and added back Bob Dylan's "Masterpiece," which Garcia hadn't played in a while.  However, the one really memorable song the band added to the Garcia repertoire was an instrumental version of "Eleanor Rigby" embedded within "After Midnight." Since all but a few connected tapers would have heard prior shows, when the JGB dropped the melody on unsuspecting fans, it always brought down the house, as you can hear by listening to any tape from that period. According to the JerrySite, the debut of the AM>ER jam was February 2, 1980 at The Stone in San Francisco, although it's possible that the jam had been hinted at earlier. When tapes started to circulate around, the "Eleanor Rigby" jam stood out.

Unfortunately, by the time most fans had gotten their hands on a tape of "After Midnight>"Eleanor Rigby jam>"After Midnight," Johnny d'Fonseca Jr had died in an auto accident. I recall no article that said that Jerry Garcia's drummer had died in an accident, and when Greg Errico was the drummer for a brief Summer tour, I just assumed it was the usual changing of the guard in the JGB drummer's chair. I presume that JGB was committed to some East Coast dates, so when d'Fonseca died, they had little choice but to hire super-sub Greg Errico, playing a few local dates to go along with it. The Errico-JGB played some decent sounding shows, but they didn't play the "Eleanor Rigby," jam, leaving that as a legacy of the Johnny d'Fonseca Jr iteration of the Jerry Garcia band.

Looking backwards, it's easy to fall into the trap of being maudlin: Johnny d'Fonseca Jr grew up around Mickey Hart's ranch, and Mickey was effectively his drum tutor, and just as he got his chance to play with Jerry Garcia, he died unexpectedly in a car accident. It's sad when anyone dies in a car accident, young or not, and that shouldn't be taken lightly. I try and look at it the other way, however, and say that Johnny d'Fonseca Jr was looking for a bite of the apple, like most of us, and he got one, which many of us never do. Listen to Jerry lead the band into "Eleanor Rigby" and back out to "After Midnight," and think about the nice groove that little Johnny Dee was laying down, because that is how he probably hoped to be known.

Friday, November 11, 2011

September 25, 1980: Fox-Warfield Theater, San Francisco, CA "Ripple" (That's Otis)

The front cover of the Grateful Dead's April, 1981 release Reckoning
(Update: Touching as all the events I describe here may be, I am actually describing something that happened in my mind and not in real life. Thanks to various commenters, it appears that Bob Weir's dog Otis walked on stage the second night of the Warfield run [September 26], not the first [September 25], which I describe here. So my description of the first night at the Warfield seems to be accurate, and my description of Otis coming on stage is very vivid, but they happened on two separate nights. Some decades ago I "discovered" that the Otis event was on September 25, and simply merged the events in my mind. Although I have a firm and cherished memory of this, it isn't true, however much I believe it to be so. This conflation is a good example of how we can have reservations when some Commenter insists that they did or did not see the Dead play "Dark Star" on a given night, or that they played a certain venue, or that Jimi Hendrix appeared on stage.

I am leaving the post intact as a marker for my clear yet wrong memory)

On the Grateful Dead release Reckoning, recorded at the Fox-Warfield Theater in San Francisco and Radio City Music Hall in New York in September and October 1980, the final track is "Ripple." The released version of the song was recorded the very first night of the run, on September 25, 1980. In the middle of the song, there is an audible cheer from the crowd, and then shortly afterwards a huge round of applause. Jerry Garcia, uniquely talking to the audience while playing, says "That's Otis." Otis, Bob Weir's dog, had walked on stage to the amusement of the crowd. Although Otis was not the most famous on-stage guest ever at a Grateful Dead performance, he was still an interesting one. Since I was fortunate enough to be at the show that night, I thought I would describe this event of world historical importance in greater detail.

The Fox-Warfield Theater
In the Summer of 1980, the Grateful Dead had announced that they would be playing an incredible 14 nights at the Fox-Warfield Theater in San Francisco. The Fox-Warfield was at 982 Market Street (at 6th Street), in a once-glamorous but by-then-sleazy part of downtown. The theater had been newly restored, and in 1979 Bill Graham Presents had begun using it for select shows. In particular, in November of 1979 Bob Dylan had played twelve nights there. In fact, since Dylan insisted on playing only his material from Slow Train Coming and Saved, the shows were poorly received. I saw one of them, and it was definitely not good, in a willful Dylan way, but like everyone else I was impressed with the venue.

Back in 1980, the Fox-Warfield was a fully seated venue, with a capacity of about 2200. After some renovations around 1983, the name was changed to "The Warfield" and the downstairs had an open dance floor and tiered tables in the back, but back during the original run all patrons had reserved seats. The Grateful Dead had played seated venues in the Bay Area a few times in the 1970s, but not often. They had played 4 nights at the Berkeley Community Theater in 1972, and six nights at the Orpheum Theatre (at 1192  Market Street at 8th) in 1976, but the Fox-Warfield was smaller than either venue. Expectations ran high, and tickets were only available by mail order, also a first for the Bay Area.

My friend and I put our order in, and ended up with tickets for several nights. We were fortunate to get balcony seats for the very first night. Although the neighborhood was dubious, with Mike's faithful black lab snoozing in the back of his VW van (RIP Shadow, wherever you are, buddy), there was not going to be a problem. The first show of a Grateful Dead run or tour were always exciting, but this first night was truly special. The entire crowd was excited, but since we all had seats there wasn't the air of physical tension that came from trying to save or carve out space on a crowded floor.

The back cover to Reckoning, showing the Dead's 1980 acoustic set-up
The Acoustic Set
No one really knew whether the Grateful Dead were going to do anything other than play their usual two sets,but we all hoped for something different. Joel Selvin, in his San Francisco Chronicle column, had alluded to the possibility of acoustic sets, but there was no way to know for sure. Obviously, a few people close to the band knew that the Grateful Dead were rehearsing acoustically, but without an internet there was no way to know any of that. Thus when we walked down to our seats in the theater balcony and saw the acoustic instruments set up in front of the electric equipment, we knew we were going to see something different, and this added to the buzz of expectation in the house. The Dead's acoustic equipment was set up in a sort of semi-circle in front of the Dead's main gear. Garcia and Weir were in the center, with Phil Lesh mostly standing behind them, and Brent off to stage left playing piano, while the drummers played slimmed down kits in front of their regular trap sets.

Like all good Deadheads, Mike and I devoted ourselves to guessing the first song. For once, instead or merely deciding between "Promised Land" or "Alabama Getaway," we knew we were looking at the first acoustic set in 10 years (not counting the Chicago set in '78). Anything was possible. It was a rare moment to be guaranteed that it would be something we had never seen, in the sense that neither Mike nor I had ever seen an acoustic set. Mike took the high road, and decided that they would open with "Uncle John's Band," and I decided that they would start with something easy, and went with "Dark Hollow." We were both wrong.

The magical moment when the entire crowd realized after the first few notes that the Dead were doing an acoustic version of "Bird Song" stands as one of my most memorable experiences as a Deadhead. So often, the Dead made magic on random nights out in the hinterlands, while making the dumbest song choices for high profile events. Yet here they were, with sky-high expectations for an historic run that included their first real acoustic set in a decade, and they played a song that not only had never been played acoustically, few in the crowd had probably ever been graced with a live version of it. To top it off, "Bird Song" is a great Dead song in almost everyone's book, and it was truly magical when the band met the challenge to choose a cool song and exceeded it.

After "Bird Song," nothing could go wrong. Remember that from the crowd's perspective, every song was a surprise. The actual 35-minute set was
Bird Song ;

I've Been All Around This World ;

Dark Hollow ;

Rosalie McFall ;

Monkey And The Engineer ;

It Must Have Been The Roses ;

Jack-A-Roe ;

Oh Babe It Ain't No Lie >

Ripple ;
When Garcia and Weir started up "Ripple," everybody knew that it was the end of the set. While "Ripple" is actually a trivial song, it gave everyone a warm fuzzy feeling, and it was a night to be warm and fuzzy. There was still one surprise left, however, when Bob Weir's dog Otis wandered onto the stage [as I pointed out above, this actually happened the next night, September 26, which I also attended, and I have simply merged the two nights in my memory].

Otis was a fairly large Siberian husky mix, very handsome and regal, and like most of his breed he appeared friendly but indifferent to the needs and concerns of mere humans, even one who claimed to "own" him. For whatever reason, Otis got tired of standing on stage right and watching and calmly strolled onto the stage, towards Weir. The first roar you hear on "Ripple" is Otis coming onto the stage. Weir heard the roar and looked up from his guitar to see Otis standing in the center of the stage, staring at him. Glaring at his dog, albeit while suppressing a smile, Weir angrily pointed offstage.

Otis stared back at Weir, and then turned to the audience. With the royal disdain of a Siberian Husky, and with Weir gesturing for him to get offstage, Otis gave a gigantic doggie yawn--"who cares what that guy thinks," he seemed to be saying. Since everyone in the tiny Warfield could see the yawn, the entire crowd went crazy, and all the members of the Grateful Dead busted a gut laughing. The second, louder cheer you hear on "Ripple" is for the yawn. At that juncture, a laughing Garcia announced "that's Otis!," confirming the dog's immortality.

Ultimately Otis got Weir's message and drifted offstage. Somebody on the crew led him off when he got near the edge, but Otis was alone on stage for 30 seconds to a minute, a long time for a dog. In less than 40 minutes, we had an acoustic set, "Bird Song" and Otis, and this was just the first set. Mike and I agreed that we could leave right then and it would have been a fantastic night. Of course we stayed (and we're glad we did), but I'm not aware of any other Grateful Dead show where a dog came on stage, and certainly Otis was the only one to get namechecked by Jerry.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Jerry Garcia Band Keystone Scheduling Overview

The Sunday ad for the Keystone Family, SF Chronicle Jan 27, 1980
I have written at length elsewhere about Jerry Garcia long and fruitful partnership with the Keystone family of nightclubs. From 1971 to 1987, in numerous musical configurations, Jerry Garcia played the Keystone Korner in San Francisco, Keystone Berkeley, Keystone Palo Alto and The Stone in San Francisco over 400 times. At the peak of this activity, from 1977-84, the Jerry Garcia Band (and occasionally other ensembles) would play a run of a couple of shows at the Keystones over the course of a few nights. Generally, he would play one night at each Keystone (Berkeley, Palo Alto and The Stone), three nights in a row, every month or two. There were numerous exceptions to this, and I am using this post to unpack the various scheduling agendas between Jerry Garcia and the Keystones. As a sample for analysis, I am using the Keystone ad for Sunday, January 27, 1980 (above, from the San Francisco Chronicle), which lists upcoming shows at all three venues over the few weeks that would follow publication.

The January 27 ad does not, in fact, list every show at all three Keystone family clubs. All of the clubs were typically open at least six nights a week, but they often only had local bands. The Sunday Chronicle ad was intended to encourage people from around the Bay Area to make a plan to attend one of the clubs, so only the most high profile bookings were listed. In the specific run advertised here, the Jerry Garcia Band was scheduled to play Sunday, January 27 at Keystone Berkeley, and then Friday and Saturday, February 1 and 2. The JGB had played Keystone Palo Alto the previous Sunday night, January 20.

Since all three Keystones were open almost every night, it is plain that to some extent the JGB business managers (presumably Sue Stephens and Steve Parish) looked at Garcia's personal schedule and selected some dates to play shows, and the Keystone family then assigned them to the appropriate Keystone. I'm sure there was some cooperative give and take, but since the Keystones had to find 15 or more headliners every week, there were always some open slots on the bill. An analysis of the ad confirms this.

The typical Keystone booking was a touring rock act who would play two or three nights in different Keystones around the bay, depending on the band's schedule. Thus Cecilio & Kapono, for example (surely you remember them) were booked for Friday, February 15 in Palo Alto, Saturday (Feb 16) in Berkeley and Sunday (Feb 17) at The Stone in San Francisco. Roy Buchanan and The Beat were also booked at the clubs that weekend, and the bands rotated around (The Beat was almost certainly "The Paul Collins Beat" as opposed to the more famous "English Beat"). However, Buchanan played two nights at The Stone, leaving Santa Cruz heroes Snail to headline Palo Alto on Saturday night. Keystone Palo Alto was the nicest of three clubs, with the best parking (you could actually consider taking a date there without shame) and also served a South Bay market from the San Jose area, so the headliners were sometimes different. 

On the weekend of February 1 and 2, there were a number of higher profile bookings at Keystone Palo Alto and Keystone Berkeley. An exciting double bill of Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker was playing The Stone on January 31 (Thursday), Berkeley on February 1 (Friday) and Keystone Palo Alto on February 2 (Saturday). Berkeley hero Greg Kihn was playing Berkeley on Friday February 1, and San Francisco hipsters Pearl Harbor and The Explosions were playing Palo Alto on February 2 as well. Thus The Stone was the "available" club for Garcia Band bookings on the weekend of February 1-2. Although I don't have the previous calendars in front of me, I am sure that a similar analysis would show why the Sunday night shows on January 20 (Palo Alto) and January 27 (Berkeley) made sense for those weekends as well.

A lot of really good bands played the Keystone family of clubs in the 70s and 80s, but the need for 900 headliners a year (roughly 3 clubs x 6 nights x 52 weeks) meant that the Keystones could always accommodate the Garcia Band. Back in 1980, the Grateful Dead were not an exceptional draw in the Bay Area, so even at the Keystones the Garcia Band seems to have striven to book on weekends. In both earlier and later years, that seemed to be less the case. In earlier years, I think Garcia was just looking for enough money to keep his bandmates happy enough to stay in his band, and in later years I think the increasing popularity of the Garcia Band allowed them to book more weeknights. In 1980, however, with the Garcia Band having been largely dormant for two years (the 1980 version, with Ozzie Ahlers on keyboards, had only debuted in October '79), and the Grateful Dead's financial situation as precarious as ever, there seems to have been a conscious effort to find the most attractive dates to book the Keystones.

Appendix: Some Keystone Notes
Keystone Palo Alto had three levels, with a dance floor in front of the stage and two raised levels of seating. There was no sawdust on the floor, and a full bar, setting it apart from the Keystone Berkeley. Also, while The Stone had a full bar and multiple levels, parking at both The Stone and Keystone Berkeley was difficult, and the neighborhoods were sketchy. Finally, The Stone and Keystone Berkeley competed with a variety of San Francisco and East Bay clubs that were very different than the Keystone Palo Alto.

The Keystone Palo Alto was located on 260 S. California Ave in Palo Alto, about a mile South of Downtown. Parking in those days was easy, and the streets were quiet and safe (and dead as a doornail). Palo Alto was well within the range of a huge population of music fans in San Jose who would not have been as likely to come to San Francisco for all but the biggest shows. Conversely, while San Jose in those days--a place that manufactured silicon chips, rather than just designed them--was full of noisy pickup joints with danceable bands, there was very little in the way of serious, original music clubs. As a result, quite a few acts would play The Great American Music Hall in San Francisco but then play Keystone Palo Alto to cover the South Bay.

Mose Allison was booked at Keystone Palo Alto on Thursday, January 31, but he would have been wildly inappropriate at the harder rocking clubs of Keystone Berkeley or The Stone. He probably played the Great American Music Hall instead. Snail, on the other hand, had formed in Santa Cruz in 1968 and were hugely popular in the South Bay, but largely unknown outside of the South Bay. Thus Snail could headline Keystone Palo Alto, but they were small potatoes in Berkeley or San Francisco (Santa Cruz was right about this one--Snail was a really good band). Country swing act Back In The Saddle and Sonoma folksinger Kate Wolf could deliver a good show at Keystone Palo Alto, but they would have been doomed at Keystone Berkeley or The Stone. On the other hand, they probably did very well at Berkeley's Freight And Salvage, but there was no such club in the South Bay, so Keystone Palo Alto could pick up those bookings as well.

Queen Ida and The Bon Temps Zydeco Band (January 28) probably had a following in the East Bay, at least, but they also probably had more choices to play, as the East Bay was more of a multi-cultural soup than the South Bay in those days, so once again Palo Alto was a good choice. The Monday night show (Jan 28) was probably a Monday "Fat Fry," a live performance broadcast on the legendary FM station KFAT, out of Gilroy.

On the other hand, Berkeley has always been a self-contained island, so its not surprising that certain acts were way more popular at Keystone Berkeley than the other clubs. While Greg Kihn had broken beyond the Berkeley border with his 1978 hit "The Breakup Song," Beserkeley Records label mates Earthquake were still popular pretty much only in Berkeley. The group had formed at Berkeley High School in 1967 under the name Purple Earthquake, and stuck together through thick and thin and various record labels. They were fading by 1980, but they could still headline Keystone Berkeley on a Saturday night. The Psychotic Pineapple, a goofy band from Emeryville, had a regular Monday night residency at Keystone Berkeley around 1979-80 and were a weird sort of Berkeley institution. The cover charge for Monday night Pyno shows was typically about a dollar. I don't think I ever saw Psychotic Pineapple in a club, but I recall their flyers and saw them many times playing in a semi-acoustic fashion on the UC Berkeley campus at odd hours.

The Stone had the least identity of the Keystone clubs, and generally skewed towards louder, harder rocking acts. It was located on Broadway in San Francisco, an area that was very difficult to park and on a street full of topless clubs, homeless people, punk rockers and general madness. People from the suburbs were the least likely to attend a show at The Stone just because of the sheer difficulty involved. On the other hand, its convenient location meant that it could serve a broad population, and with a full bar and a capacity of 700 (officially) it seemed to do quite well.

Friday, October 28, 2011

September 20, 1980: The Stone, San Francisco, CA: Bobby And The Midnites (SF debut)

My notes for the Bobby & The Midnites show at The Stone, in San Francisco, on September 20, 1980. Note that I had written "Bob Weir and The Midnites," probably how they were announced

Bob Weir had not played bars or smaller venues in the Bay Area prior to the Grateful Dead's hiatus in 1974. Once the hiatus began, however, Weir played around regularly with Kingfish, even keeping it up for a little while after the Dead began touring again in 1976. The group Kingfish went it's own way afterwards, but Weir seemed to have taken a lesson from Jerry Garcia and made a conscious effort to develop his own solo career parallel to but seprarate from the Grateful Dead. Unlike Garcia, however, who seemed to choose a jazzier and more laid back approach to his solo work, Weir made a self-conscious effort to make more focused and hard rocking music on his own than with the Grateful Dead. Put another way, from 1977 to 1984 Bob Weir played rock music and aimed to be a Rock Star. The principal vehicle for Weir's ambitions was the group Bobby And The Midnites. I was fortunate enough to see Bobby And The Midnites, on September 20, 1980, at The Stone in San Francisco, on their debut weekend. This post is a reflection on how that event appeared at the time, and the ways in which it did and did not prefigure future events in Bob Weir's career.

Heaven Help The Fool
When Arista Records signed the Grateful Dead in 1976, they also made provisions for solo records by band members. Jerry Garcia had produced Cats Under The Stars by the Jerry Garcia Band, released in early 1978. Cats was a muted, layered record, featuring all-original material in the laid back style characterized by Garcia Band performances. Weir's Heaven Help The Fool album was released in January 1978. Working with Keith Olsen in Los Angeles, producer of both Terrapin Station and Fleetwood Mac, the album featured 8 very conventional rock songs, designed for radio play. A handsome photo of Weir graced the cover, with no psychedelic designs hinting that Weir was a member of the Grateful Dead. Along with six originals, there were two cover versions ("Easy To Slip" and "I'll Be Doggone"), a record company tactic designed to give casual shoppers an idea of the music without having to hear it.The album was designed to make Weir a star like Steve Miller or Boz Scaggs.

In order to support Heaven Help The Fool, Weir went on tour with a band that included lead guitarist Bobby Cochran and organist Brent Mydland. There was a national tour in March of 1978, and a brief tour in the Fall, where Garcia first heard Brent play, thus triggering the departure of the Godchauxs. Heaven Help The Fool probably sold a few copies, and it would have made Arista money, although probably not Weir, but it never took off. In my opinion, at least, the original material by Weir and lyricist John Barlow was okay, but not strong enough to grab the ears of radio programmers or casual listeners. In 1979, with Brent Mydland now a member of the Grateful Dead, Weir had no extra-curricular performances that were open to the general public.

The cover of Bob Weir's 1978 Arista album Heaven Help The Fool
September 1980
By the Fall of 1980, the Grateful Dead had raised their profile somewhat. They had a new album on Arista, Go To Heaven, and they had recently announced that they would be playing 14 nights at San Francisco's Fox-Warfield Theater on Market Street. Bill Graham Presents had just started using the venue, and Bob Dylan had played a dozen shows there the previous year. Since Dylan had played his "Jesus songs," the performances were poorly received (I went to one--it wasn't good), but everyone loved the venue. The Grateful Dead's Warfield run was going to be from September 25-October 14, 1980, followed by shows at Radio City Music Hall in New York. Thus it was a complete surprise when Bob Weir was booked for three shows in the Bay Area from September 18-20, at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz, the Keystone Palo Alto and The Stone in San Francisco.

In 1980, the only coverage of the Grateful Dead in the press were notices in Joel Selvin's weekly Lively Arts column in the San Francisco Chronicle "Pink Section" (Datebook). Even then, there would only be a sentence or two about the Dead's upcoming concerts or new albums, since Selvin had to cover the doings of every other Bay Area band within a paragraph or two. Selvin almost never mentioned anything about Jerry Garcia's additional activities, and he certainly said nothing about Weir's.  Thus the band and the event occurred in a complete vacuum. Weir seemed to have a new band that he was taking the trouble to rehearse right before a big Dead tour, but there was no explanation as to why, nor any concept of what to expect. This was intriguing--we had to go.

Bobby And The Midnites, Mark I: Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice
The three shows were advertised as Bobby And The Midnites, although it's possible based on my own notes (above) that they may have been billed or announced as "Bob Weir and The Midnites," as I was very careful about noting that sort of thing. In any case, the advertised lineup was
  • Bobby Cochran-lead guitar, vocals
  • Bob Weir-guitar, vocals
  • Brent Mydland-keyboards, vocals
  • Tim Bogert-bass
  • Carmine Appice-drums
  • Matt Kelly-harmonica, guitar, congas
Cochran and Mydland had been in the 1978 edition of the Bob Weir Band, and Kelly had been in Kingfish, so their presence in the new band was not surprising. The real surprises were bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice. Not only were they not from the Bay Area and lacked even the faintest association with the Grateful Dead, Bogert and Appice were influential musicians whose style was the polar opposite to the Dead in many ways [update: a fellow scholar pointed out to me that I wrote "Billy Cobham-drums" on my notes above. I would have written them down right after the show. I am more inclined to believe 1980-Me than 30-years-later-Me, so I think I simply inserted Appice into my memory. Memory is weird].

Bogert and Appice were from Long Island, and their mid-60s group The Pigeons had changed their name to Vanilla Fudge. Vanilla Fudge's big hit in 1967 had been a re-interpretation of the Supremes' "You Keep Me Hangin' On" into a slow, 7-minute rock opus with huge organ chords and loud drums and guitar. Do you recall some 60s rock music referred to as "Heavy"? Vanilla Fudge was known as the first heavy rock band. The Fudge had a ground breaking sound, taking R&B-styled music and playing it thunderously loud and slow. Bogert and Appice were one of the first rock rhythm sections to be famous as such. Vanilla Fudge sounds dated today--they sounded dated by 1969--but they were hugely influential:
  • in Denver, CO, future members of Three Dog Night heard "You Keep Me Hanging On" and realized you could make good hit music by rocking up simpler songs
  • in 1968 England, Ritchie Blackmore and some others decided to form Deep Purple with the express intent of being the "English Vanilla Fudge"
  • Also in 1968 England, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones were putting together a new band, and while they had a variety of ideas, they wanted that booming sound on the bottom that Vanilla Fudge had pioneered
  • And somewhere in America in 1969, Jeff Beck heard Vanilla Fudge and loved Bogert and Appice, and decided to break up his band, planning to form a new group with Rod Stewart, Bogert and Appice (replacing Nicky Hopkins, Ronnie Wood and Tony Newman)
So Bogert and Appice weren't just from Long Island rather than San Francisco, but musically they were in complete contrast to the San Francisco Sound. Bogert and Appice hadn't been quite as successful in the 1970s, but they were still prominent. Due to record company obligations that could not be refused, Vanilla Fudge could not break up until March 1970. By that time, Jeff Beck had been in a major auto accident that sidelined him for two years, and Rod Stewart had gone solo, so Bogert and Appice had formed the group Cactus, a hard rocking ensemble who never really managed to become a headline act. Bogert and Appice's penchants for extended solos were bought to the fore in Cactus, who only had two gears--fifth and overdrive.

Bogert and Appice did finally tour some with Jeff Beck, in a high-powered trio called Beck, Bogert and Appice in 1972-73, but the albums and tours never reached the heights that the band members had hoped for. Bogert and Appice then played on various projects separately and together throughout the 1970s, on tour and in the studio. Ironically, Appice had ended up as the drummer for Rod Stewart's touring band, and Stewart and Appice had co-written "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy," a huge hit, but not Stewart's deepest moment as a vocal interpreter.

Thus it was quite surprising to see Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice playing at some bars in the San Francisco Bay Area with members of the Grateful Dead.I am now aware of a possible Bobby and The Midnites show on June 30, 1980, at the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach, but I knew nothing about this show at the time, so I have no idea who was in the group in June, or if they were even billed as Bobby and The Midnites. I do know that Weir and Cochran had met Alphonso Johnson and Billy Cobham in 1979 (the subject of another post), and broached the idea of "Bobby And The Midnites," but I do not know (nor did I then) whether Bogert and Appice were part of the plan or just interim members.

September 20, 1980: The Stone, San Francisco, CA
The Stone was the third leg of Freddie Herrera's Keystone empire, larger than either Keystone Berkeley or Keystone Palo Alto, with a capacity of about 700. It had only opened earlier in the year, and this was the first time I or any of my friends had been there. There was a dance floor up front, and tables on raised platforms in the back, similar to Keystone Palo Alto.  In contrast to Berkeley, which just sold beer, The Stone was a hard liquor bar. It was on Broadway in North Beach, amidst all the topless clubs. Keystone Berkeley was a funky dive, but it had a hippie/college-town feel. The Stone was a sleazy dive, with a big hair and big shoes feel, more uptempo than Berkeley but harder edged as well.

We got to The Stone early enough to get a nice table on the second tier. There was a decent crowd, but I don't recall it being sold out. The sightlines were excellent. Because we were early, we got to sit through an unmemorable opening set by the Kevin Barry Band, who, to the extent I recall, played would-be "arena rock" in a Journey/REO style. Bobby And The Midnites had debuted in Santa Cruz, 90 miles South of San Francisco, on a Thursday night. If there were any bugs, they were fixed out of town. For veterans like Bogert, Appice and the rest of the band, by night three at The Stone they were going to be road ready. Of course, without an internet or anything else we had no idea what to expect.

Weir and the band made their way on stage at a reasonable hour--unlike certain other members of the Grateful Dead--and launched into "Poison Ivy," by The Coasters. This had been a regular cover by the Bob Weir Band, so it wasn't a surprising start. Knowing what we know today, it is interesting to recall that the Dead had backed The Coasters for a week at The In Room in Belmont in September 1965, and here was Weir playing a Coasters song 15 years later. Probably no one in the crowd knew this at the time, but Weir probably had a personal affection for the song unrelated to the fact that it was fun to sing and play. Bogert and Appice were solid and funky on the bottom end, as expected, but did not overwhelm the sound as if they were in Vanilla Fudge or something.

However, as the show wore on, it became clear that the setlist was a mixture of original numbers from Heaven Help The Fool and covers that Weir had done with the Bob Weir Band or Kingfish.
Set I
Poison Ivy
See See Rider
Big Iron
Bombs Away
Easy To Slip
 All I Need Is Time
Promised Land

Set II
Minglewood Blues
I Found Love
Heaven Help The Fool
This Time Forever>
 Shade Of Gray
I'll Be Doggone
Wrong Way Feeling

One More Saturday Night
While "See See Rider," "Supplication,""Minglewood" and "One More Saturday Night" had all been performed by the Dead, Weir had performed them all with Kingfish or his own band, so there were no surprises. All the songs were well played, and they weren't note for note, but there was no jamming as such. The Midnites had a much more commercial hard rock sound, intentionally separating themselves from the more diffuse, improvisational sound of the Dead. Initially I was glad that Bogert and Appice did not play like they had with Jeff Beck, but by the end I was hoping they would step out and make things more interesting, whatever the results. I suspect there was some impropvised jamming after the drum solo (before "All I Need Is Time") but I don't recall it and I didn't make a note of it.

In general, I enjoyed the show. I recognized that Weir, similar to Garcia, had made a self-conscious decision to play music that was distinctly different than the Grateful Dead. He certainly had the looks and chops to play conventional "AOR Rock," and not to make it stupid. But it still wasn't that memorable. I didn't see Bobby And The Midnites and go "wow, I've got to see them again." Since I hadn't seen the Bob Weir Band in 1978, it was fun to hear some of the Heaven Help The Fool songs live, but I still didn't think the songs were as catchy as, say, Steve Miller or Fleetwood Mac, which was the audience they appeared to be driving for.

The feel on the stage was that Weir and Bobby Cochran were driving the band, and everyone else was acting as a sideman. Cochran took a lead vocal on his own slow blues, "I Found Love," which he had performed with the Bob Weir Band, and took most of the solos. Brent only sang a few harmonies and took the occasional brief organ solo, and sang no songs of his own. Some years later, I found out that Cochran had recorded "I Found Love" an an album on Mercury in 1977 by a group called Sierra, who were the re-named Flying Burrito Brothers, who then re-re-named themselves the Flying Burrito Brothers again the next year.

This lineup of Bobby and The Midnites went on to do a brief 5-date East Coast tour (from November 1-7), right after the conclusion of the Radio City Grateful Dead shows. They played small auditioriums like the Capitol Theater in Passaic. I have no idea whether the shows were well attended, but Dead spinoff acts were always popular in the Northeast. I have heard a circulating audience tape of a Midnites show from Boston's Orpheum Theater on November 4, 1980, and the sound jibes with my distant memories, regular Weir arrangements with some fast tempos and rockin' oomph from Bogert and Appice, Cactus-style. The Midnites did another tour in January of 1981, six dates in California from January 25-31 (the three Keystones, Pasadena, UCLA and finally Davis). The band then disappeared from sight, with no mention of their plans.

Bobby and The Midnites reappeared with a new studio album on Arista in November, 1981. Bogert and Appice had been replaced by the even more impressive pair of Alphonso Johson on bass and Billy Cobham on drums. Although both of those guys could play any music imaginable, it was very interesting to see them playing straight ahead rock instead of fusion or modern jazz. Mydland and Kelly were on the album, but neither of them were on the tour that commenced in January 12 of 1982, as session keyboard man Dave Garland (ex-Big Foot) joined the group. Bobby and The Midnites took a genuine stab at conventional rock stardom over the next 18 months, but it was not to be.  While there have been a fair number of interviews with Weir about the Midnites over the years, he has never really said anything specific to my knowledge about how he met Bogert and Appice, whether they were supposed to be permanent members of the group, or anything else about them. Bogert did play with Weir one more time, at a benefit show at the Perkins Palace in Pasadena on March 10, 1983, but very little is known about that show either.

As to Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice, they have continued to be bona fide rock legends, but I have never seen a comment from either of them about playing with Bob Weir. In itself, this is not surprising, since they have played with literally dozens of true rock legends, and hung out with most of the rest of them (savvy readers will recall Frank Zappa's tale of a chance meeting between Don Preston and the Vanilla Fudge at the Chicago O'Hare airport...). Thus whenever either of them are interviewed, Hendrix, Zeppelin, Beck, the Fudge, Zappa, Rod Stewart and numerous others take precedence and the subject of a few dates with Bob Weir some decades ago never comes up.