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.