Friday, December 14, 2012

Russian River To McHenry Library (via Tennessee)

A poster for the 1967 premier of Robert Nelson's film The Great Blondino

In 2008, the Grateful Dead organization offered up their historical material to University libraries. The primary contenders were Stanford University and the University of California at Santa Cruz. Although Stanford might seem like an obvious choice for a Grateful Dead archive, given the campus' proximity to Palo Alto and Menlo Park, UCSC won the prize. In 2012, the Grateful Dead Archive had it's grand opening at the McHenry Library on the campus. Choosing the UCSC Banana Slugs over the Stanford Indians was a surprise to many, including me, but it turns out that the Grateful Dead Archive may have been destined for McHenry Library all along.

In 1968, a 7-minute film featuring the Grateful Dead was released, directed by one Robert Nelson. Unimaginatively titled Grateful Dead, it featured music from the first album, carefully synced to footage of the band playing, canoeing and goofing around in an idyllic rural setting. This was no home movie--Nelson was a professional, if 'underground' filmmaker, the music was properly mixed and the whole enterprise was probably financed by Warner Brothers as a promotional exercise.

The footage was shot around late May 1967, at the family ranch of a friend of the band, John Carl Warnecke Jr. The Grateful Dead spent a week or two rehearsing, looning around and generally enjoying the area. As it happens, however, the family patriarch, John Carl Warnecke (Sr), was a nationally famous architect. Among other commissions, he had designed the eternal flame at the gravesite of John F. Kennedy, a family friend. In 1967, Warnecke was working on another commission: the new McHenry Library building at UC Santa Cruz. So the Grateful Dead spent time in 1967 at the family ranch of the man who designed the building that would house the Grateful Dead Archive forty years later.

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The Robert Nelson Grateful Dead film, from May 1967 [click the link if the YouTube embed does not display]

The Grateful Dead And Robert Nelson
By May, 1967, members of the Grateful Dead knew that their comfortable life in the hippie paradise of Haight Ashbury was soon to be finished. The press was predicting a massive influx of teenagers during the impending "Summer Of Love." Their was already a bus tour through Haight Ashbury that presented hippies like zoo animals, and the tour included a drive by of 710 Ashbury, as if the Grateful Dead were prized orangutans. They had their first national tours coming up in June and August, too, so they weren't just going to be local heroes, either.

Robert Nelson was an independent, underground filmmaker, then a very precarious sort of existence. Along with a few other such filmmakers, Nelson lived in the obscure community of Canyon, near Berkeley but extremely difficult to get to from there, or anywhere. The little community was not even a town, and only existed because of a by-then unused railroad tunnel. The area had a general store with a post office, a lot of redwood trees and some very windy roads. Outsiders were not encouraged. The Canyon crowd was a few years older than the Berkeley hippies, but relations were generally good. On July 16, 1967, for example Country Joe And The Fish and The Youngbloods held a benefit for the Canyon community center. Yet the poster had to include a map of the area, since it was so difficult to get to.

Nelson (1930-2012) had been trained as an artist at the San Francisco Art Institute, but when he turned to making films in the early 60s, he was completely untrained and thus thoroughly experimental. He had many connections to the San Francisco rock scene. One of his most famous short films "Oh Dem Watermelons" (1965), had originally been intended to be shown at the intermission of the infamous San Francisco Mime Troupe show "Civil Rights In A Cracker Barrel," but the film developed a following of its own. Nelson had also participated in the January 1966 Trips Festival. On the weekend of March 11-12 1966, a concert was held at the Fillmore Auditorium to raise funds for Nelson's film The Great Blondino (which was premiered later in 1967), featuring The Great Society, Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Family Tree, The Mystery Trend and others. These  disparate events were not unconnected--the business manager of the SF Mime Troupe in 1965, and by the next year Graham held the lease on the Fillmore.

I am not precisely certain how Robert Nelson came to be making a film for the Grateful Dead, but the connection would not have been random. They had plenty of interlocking relationships, and Canyon was not so far from the Russian River. I am making an assumption about Warner Brothers having financed the film, but it seems likely. Short promotional films for new bands were actually pretty common up until the mid-60s, so persuading Warners that it would help them. In any case, movies like A Hard Day's Night and Charlie Is My Darling were pretty cool, so there was a valid tradition of popular rock bands making hip little films.

John Carl Warnecke Jr
John Carl Warnecke Jr (1947-2003) had become a friend of the Grateful Dead around 1966. How exactly he came to befriend the band isn't certain, but the Dead were a hip, happening band back in the day, and not hard to find if you looked to meet them. According to his family's description, "in the mid-1960s, he befriended members of a fledgling band known as the Grateful Dead and became their promotion road manager from 1966 to 1968, handling bookings and advance work."

My assessment of Warnecke's role is that his family was describing a more informal version of some business arrangements that would not formally identified until some years later. Rosie McGee's very interesting book Dancing With The Dead (2012) does a good job of explaining the peculiar economic setup of the Grateful Dead in the early days. A lot of people worked for little or nothing in return for access to the band, and in parallel they tried to create opportunities for themselves. The Dead didn't really have "advance men" in the formal sense back then, but friends of the band would do various things to facilitate concerts, like putting up posters. In turn, if Warnecke was able to find bookings for the band, tradition (and California law) would have allowed him to take up to 10% of the fee, so he would have had an opportunity to create a little business.

The Warnecke family had a ranch in Healdsburg, in Sonoma County on the Russian River. I doubt it was any kind of working ranch, more likely just a country retreat for the family. In any case, Warnecke seems to have invited not only the Grateful Dead but their extended family an opportunity to spend a week or two there at the end of May,1967. Since we know that the Grateful Dead went to New York for a June 1, 1967 engagement at the Cafe Au Go Go, their sojourn in Sonoma could not have lasted long, but it left lasting impressions, captured by Nelson. McNally describes it:
[The Grateful Dead] had a platform over the riverbank where they set up their instruments, a campfire and a mix of tent and cabins. It was a reflective and spiritual moment. An avant-garde filmmaker, Robert Nelson, had expressed interest in working with them, and during their time on the river he made a ten-minute film, most memorably when they fooled around in a canoe (p.195).
Relaxing on the river, McNally reports that the band worked up a new song, "Alligator," using lyrics old friend Robert Hunter had mailed to them, and merging them with an existing song. There are no alligators on the Russian River, as far as I know, but when Pigpen sang
Sailin down the river in an old canoe,
A bunch of bugs and an old tennis shoe.
Out of the river all ugly and green,
Came the biggest old alligator that Ive ever seen!
Perhaps some members of the band saw the alligators anyway (thanks to David Gans, who included a piece of a Bob Weir interview in the Comments, we know that canoes were an essential feature of the Grateful Dead's experience on the Russian River).

John Carl Warnecke Jr's father, John Carl Warnecke (1919-2010), was a San Francisco-based architect who designed many well-known buildings. Warnecke had gone to Stanford in the 1940s, where he had made the acquaintance of John F. Kennedy, who was studying there at the time. As a result, Warnecke became friends with John and Jacqueline Kennedy. At Jacqueline Kennedy's request, Warnecke designed the Eternal Flame at JFK's grave.

In early 1968, the younger Warnecke, a committed peace activist as well as a music fan, went to work on the California campaign of Robert F. Kennedy, widely perceived by many young people as the best hope for ending the Vietnam War (Eugene McCarthy was considered unelectable, whereas a Kennedy always had a genuine chance at the Presidency). Once Warnecke was working for RFK, his association with the Grateful Dead seems to have been put aside. After the terrible tragedy of RFK's assassination in June 1968, Warnecke ended up moving to Nashville, TN, to work at the Nashville Tennesseean newspaper. Tennesseean editor John Siegenthaler had been impressed by Warnecke's work on the campaign, and hired him to work in Nashville.

While working at the Tennessean, Warnecke befriended another young reporter, Albert Gore, Jr. In the 2000 Presidential campaign, it seems that Warnecke was directly or indirectly responsible for the shocking--shocking, I tell you, just shocking--allegation that Gore smoked marijuana regularly in the 1960s (light a match if you remember Douglas Ginsburg, the Supreme Court nominee whose 1987 candidacy was derailed because of the revelation that he had smoked the evil weed). In any case, as far as I know, Warnecke's connection to the Grateful Dead remained under the radar at the time.

The entrance to McHenry Library at UC Santa Cruz, home of the Grateful Dead Archive (photo M. Fernwood)
UCSC and The McHenry Library
The University of California at Santa Cruz, like the Grateful Dead, had been conceived in the early 1960s and came to life in Fall 1965, on land donated by the Cowell family, which had hitherto been known as the Cowell Ranch. The McHenry Library was named after the founding chancellor, Dean E. McHenry. John Carl Warnecke Sr was selected as the architect for the library building. The senior Warnecke had been an early proponent of "contextual architecture," creating buildings that were coherent with their settings, and the McHenry Library building is both stately and appropriate, sitting atop a hill in a Redwood forest, embellishing it without dominating it. The McHenry Library, built in 1968, was the future home of the Grateful Dead Archive.

Some research at the UCSC Library digital collections site--appropriately enough--shows drawings for the McHenry Library by John Carl Warnecke (Sr) dating back to 1966. From this, we can deduce that the senior Warnecke was already engaged in designing the future home of the Grateful Dead archives at the time the band stayed at his ranch. McHenry Library was completed in 1968, so the design work must have been well underway by the time the Grateful Dead stayed at the Warnecke ranch.

One question this poses, of course, is whether the senior Warnecke was even aware that the Grateful Dead stayed at his ranch. I assume the ranch was fair-sized, and since his son was an adult, his parents would not be needed to supervise him if he "had friends over." In any case, it appears that the Dead family sort of 'camped out.' Even if the senior Warneckes were even at the ranch at the time, the esteemed architect may have had little idea of the impending invasion of giant green lizards happening down by the river.

John Carl Warnecke Jr died in 2003, at age 56, after a variety of health problems. He was fondly remembered by his family and friends. John Warnecke Sr live until 2010, living over 90 years. The junior Warnecke must have been excited enough that his friends had stayed at his family ranch, written a great song and had that stay memorialized in a film. He would have been more thrilled to know that the band's archive would end up housed in a building designed by his father. It's a long and winding road from the Russian River and the Warnecke Ranc to the McHenry Libary at the former Cowell Ranch, but the Grateful Dead's canoe made it there in the end after all.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Go Ahead with Brent Mydland and Bill Kreutzmann Tour History 1986 (Brent Mydland II)

The poster for the Go Ahead show at The Omni in Oakland, on December 19, 1986 (from GD Archives)
Brent Mydland was always in the shadow of the other members of the Grateful Dead, because he was always "the new guy." One of the many interesting aspects of the Grateful Dead was that fans could see the musical interests and abilities of the individual musicians in their various side projects, and then see how those sounds were integrated or excluded from the Dead's sounds. Most Deadheads, however--and I am certainly including myself--paid little attention to Brent's individual activities outside the band because they were too busy following Garcia or Weir.

Certainly, if you were a Bay Area resident, and you had a chance to see Jerry Garcia or Brent Mydland in a club, you would generally pick Jerry. Also, like most Dead fans I liked many kinds of music, and being fortunate enough to see the Grateful Dead regularly, I made a point of seeing other groups rather than the spinoff bands. As a result, Brent Mydland projects tended to be somewhat off the radar. In the Summer of 1985, Brent had ventured East in the band Kokomo (along with guitarist Kevin Russell, ex-Santana bassist David Margen and Bill Kreutzmann). By all accounts, they were just a bar band, but a very good one.

The enterprise must have been promising, however, since another version of the band reconstituted itself the next year. Go Ahead toured a surprising amount in the Fall of 1986, mainly because Jerry Garcia's illness canceled a lot of Grateful Dead dates. Fortunately, Go Ahead was a pretty good band as cover groups go, and they filled a lot of people's need for a Dead substitute, while presumably making a little money for the players as well. This post will attempt to identify all the Go Ahead performances for 1986.

The Kreutzmann-Margen Band
Go Ahead was presaged with a few dates in the Summer of 1986 by the Kreutzmann-Margen Band. It is generally forgotten now that for much of the early 80s, Kreutzmann regularly played shows around the Bay Area and sometimes toured elsewhere as well. Besides filling in with the Jerry Garcia Band, he played with the Healy-Treece Band, and the even more obscure Bill Kreutzmann's All-Stars. In 1984 and '85 he played with a reconstituted version of Kingfish. Bob Weir was a regular guest with Kingfish, and Brent Mydland even sat in a few times (Jan 21-24, 1985). However, after a dispute between Kreutzmann and Matt Kelly, Kreutzmann left Kingfish around March of 1985.

Kreutzmann and Mydland turned up in the Summer of 1985 with Kokomo, but the band did not survive the year. Kreutzmann must have enjoyed playing bars, however, and probably needed the money, since he played a few East Coast dates in the Summer of 1986 with yet another band.  No one but me seems to recall the Kreutzmann-Margen Band, despite a few obscure tapes, but they generally sounded a lot like Go Ahead. The group's lineup was:
  • Jerry Cortez-lead guitar
  • Alex Ligterwood-guitar, vocals
  • Nate Ginsberg-keyboards
  • David Margen-bass
  • Bill Kreutzmann-drums
Bassist David Margen, who had played with Kreutzmann in Kingfish and Kokomo, had been in a 70s lineup of Santana. A fellow member of that group was singer/rhythm guitarist Alex Ligterwood. Ligterwood, a Scotsman, had come to San Francisco around 1976 with Brian Auger and The Oblivion Express (a truly great band), and he had ended up joining Santana. Ligterwood had been the lead vocalist on such Santana hits as "Well All Right" and "Winning" in the late 70s and early 80s.

Jerry Cortez had been playing lead guitar with Jesse Colin Young and also with the revived version of the Youngbloods. Keyboardist Nate Ginsberg was a veteran of many Bay Area bands, including Larry Graham and Graham Central Station, Herbie Hancock, Cold Blood, Steve Miller Band and many others. I only know of a few East Coast dates for the Kreutzmann-Margen Band. A few tapes have surfaced, from July 27 at the Lone Star and July 29 in Chicago. Anyone who attended the shows or has additional information is encouraged to Comment.

July 25-27, 1986: Lone Star Cafe, New York, NY: Kreutzmann-Margen Band
July 28, 1986; The Tide, Beachhaven, NJ: Kreutzmann-Margen Band
July 29-30, 1986: Carol's, Chicago, IL: Kreutzmann-Margen Band

Go Ahead
In July of 1986, Jerry Garcia slipped into a diabetic coma, and the Grateful Dead world was turned upside down. A lot of concerts were canceled, and the Dead at the time had no other meaningful source of income. During the Summer, no one knew how long it would take Jerry to recover, nor when touring could possibly recommence. It is not surprising that Kreutzmann and Mydland, the two band members with the least income from recording royalties, apparently made plans to start touring. Fans in the Bay Area were somewhat inured to appearances by Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir, so shows featuring other band members were hardly events. In the rest of the country, however, any appearance by a Grateful Dead member, much less two, was at least a mini-event. Mydland replaced Ginsberg, and Go Ahead looked like this
  • Jerry Cortez-lead guitar
  • Alex Ligterwood-guitar, vocals
  • Brent Mydland-keyboards, vocals
  • David Margen-bass
  • Bill Kreutzmann-drums
From the point of view of nightclub owners, a band whose fans came early and stayed a long time were always desirable, so there seems to have been a fair amount of interest and the clubs that Go Ahead played were fairly large. In any case, there had to have been a lot of fans who were looking forward to seeing the Grateful Dead who must have been happy just to see a part of them.

With two current members of the Grateful Dead and two former members of Santana, Go Ahead roughly fell into the territory shared by the two groups. Go Ahead played extended versions of various rock cover songs, some of them made famous by one or the other band (like "Women Are Smarter" or "Well All Right"). The band played jammed out version of some of the more straightforward Weir second set numbers, some more rock Santana material and some classic rock covers (like Traffic's "Medicated Goo"). There was a lot of nice jamming, but none of it got too outside. Brent sang a few of his own ballads, and some of the material associated with the Dead, but most of the lead vocals were handled by Alex Ligterwood (including "Iko Iko"). 

Go Ahead was not an earthshaking band, just some excellent nightclub fun, but when taken in that light they were well worth the price of admission. Kreutzmann in particular is a great rock drummer in a conventional context, which can be easy to forget. It's also informative to listen to them--certainly I would have enjoyed it if members of The E Street Band or The Heartbreakers had played rock covers in nightclubs, but only Dead members seem to have had the energy (or poor judgment) to do so. Fortunately, there are a fair number of nicely recorded audience tapes floating around on Sugarmegs and elsewhere, and you can decide for yourself.

Because of Garcia's illness, instead of just playing a few quick dates, Go Ahead made a more substantial tour of the East than most Dead spinoff groups. Since they played a lot, by the end of the tour they sounded pretty tight, and some of the jamming sounds quite good. I think I have most of the dates, but I could be missing some. I am certainly missing some opening acts. Anyone with corrections, insights or observations is encouraged to mention them in the Comments. I am particularly interested in what acts might have opened for Go Ahead.

Go Ahead Performance List, Fall 1986
September 25, 1986: Lupo's, Providence, RI: Go Ahead

September 26, 1986: The Ritz, New York, NY: Go Ahead/Robert Hunter
Robert Hunter had a solo tour on the East Coast around this time, and he opened for Go Ahead in a few of the larger venues.

September 27, 1986: The Boathouse, Norfolk, VA; Go Ahead

September 28, 1986: The Bayou, Washington, DC: Go Ahead
Kokomo had played The Bayou the previous Summer, so I take that as a sign that the club owner had been happy with the turnout.

September 30, 1986: Toad's, New Haven, CT: Go Ahead

Ticket stub from the Go Ahead show at The Channel in Boston on October 1 1986
October 1, 1986: The Channel, Boston, MA: Go Ahead/Robert Hunter
There are some interesting comments in passing about this show, from a page where someone has collected all his ticket stubs. It gives a good perspective on how Go Ahead was a welcome diversion in the absence of a Dead tour.

October 2, 1986: Hunt's, Burlington, VT: Go Ahead

October 4, 1986: The Stone Pony, Asbury Park, NJ: Go Ahead/Robert Hunter

October 5, 1986: West 165th, Hartford, CT: Go Ahead/Robert Hunter/Max Creek
The venue was formerly known as The Agora.

updateCommenter Tony has some additional information
Max Creek played a four song set before Hunter at the 10/5 West Hartford Show. Creek were regulars at the Agora, and as it happens, had played as the sole act for the three nights prior to this gig. I have a tape of the Max Creek set, and I'm quite sure there exists tape of the full Hunter and Go Ahead sets. I recall Hunter played the UConn fight song. (
Hunter had lived in Connecticut for a few years in High School.

October 6, 1986: Stone Balloon, Newark, DE: Go Ahead

October 7, 1986: Trocadero, Philadelphia, PA: Go Ahead/Robert Hunter

October 8, 1986: USA Sam's, North Syracuse, NY: Go Ahead

October 10, 1986: Trafalmadore Cafe, Buffalo, NY: Go Ahead

October 11, 1986: The Warehouse, Rochester, NY: Go Ahead
[update] Thanks to correspondent Mike, we know that Max Creek played here regularly during this time. The venue, at 204 N. Water Street, is currently called The Water Street Music Hall.

October 12, 1986: My Father's Place, Roslyn, NY: Go Ahead
The band appears to have taken a two week break after this show, although it's possible I'm just missing some dates.

October 23, 1986: The Cabooze, Minneapolis, MN: Go Ahead
Starting on Oct 23, Go Ahead had a Midwestern swing.
Newspaper listing for the Milwaukee Go Ahead show on October 24 '86
October 24, 1986: U. of Wisonsin-Milwuakee Ballroom, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, WI: Go Ahead
Fellow scholar Grateful Seconds found a listing for this show

October 26, 1986: Cabaret Metro, Chicago, IL: Go Ahead

Thanks to GratefulSeconds, we have found a long-lost Cleveland gig from Oct 28 '86
October 28, 1986: Peabody's Down Under, Cleveland, OH Go Ahead (early and late shows)
Grateful Seconds also found a long-lost Go Ahead date, with an early and late show (all-ages at the early show)

October 29, 1986: Graffiti, Pittsburgh, PA: Go Ahead
There is a nice tape circulating from this show, and the band gets into some good jamming to end the second show.

October 31, 1986; Capitol Theater, Passaic, NJ: Hot Tuna/Go Ahead
This show at the Capitol was the only opening performance by Go Ahead that I know of. The band returned home to the West Coast after this show.

November 30, 1986: Concord Palace, Concord, CA: Go Ahead
The fact that Go Ahead played a few California dates after their Eastern tour was a clear sign that the band had enjoyed itself. By this time, Garcia's recovery was assured, so Go Ahead was just playing because they liked it. I don't know anything about the Concord Palace. I believe that Brent Mydland was raised in Concord, but I don't know if there was a personal connection to the show.

December 2, 1986: Wood Lake Hotel, Sacramento, CA: Go Ahead

December 6, 1986: The Country Club, Reseda, CA: Go Ahead
Go Ahead also played two shows in Southern California.

December 8, 1986: Coach House, San Juan Capistrano, CA: Go Ahead

December 19, 1986: The Omni, Oakland, CA: Go Ahead/Dreamspeak
Go Ahead's final show of the year was at The Omni in Oakland. As a long-time Oakland resident, it was depressing to me that Oakland's newest rock club at the time turned out to be such a dump that I wouldn't go to a show there (and remember, I liked the Keystone Berkeley). The Omni was at 4799 Shattuck (at 48th Street), formerly known as Ligure Hall. It had been built in 1938 as an Italian American Social Club. It was owned by John Nady, who had made a fortune inventing wireless guitar pickups, and spent it on a rock nightclub that mostly presented heavy metal.

Go Ahead's one piece of local press coverage came when it was reported (I think in the Chronicle) that Jerry was in attendance at the show, even though he did not perform. Of course, the Dead had just finished three nights at the Oakland Coliseum Arena (Dec 15-17), so Garcia's recovery wasn't at issue, but this was the start of renewed attention to Jerry's importance and mortality.

Go Ahead 1987 and 1988
Although Go Ahead's touring schedule was considerably reduced in 1987, for the pleasant reason that Jerry Garcia was back in the saddle, Go Ahead continued onwards through 1988. At the end of 1987, the band also became a vehicle for Bob Weir as well as Brent and Bill, but all that will be addressed in the next post in this series.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Smokey Grass Boys (1966-67)

A poster for the Smokey Grass Boys at 40 Cedar Alley in San Francisco, December 29-31, 1966. Poster by and courtesy of Rick Shubb
Old And In The Way only played a few dozen shows in 1973, and they only released an album 18 months after their last show, and yet they loom large in the history of modern bluegrass. The principal reason for Old And In The Way's prominence was their banjo player, Jerry Garcia. With a legitimate rock star in the band, thousands of rock fans--this writer included--first paid attention to bluegrass with open ears. Old And In The Way was steeped in the bluegrass tradition, and yet they modernized it as well, with jazzy improvised interludes and covers of contemporary rock songs. To new listeners like me, bluegrass seemed vital and exciting, instead of staid and out-of-date. In fact, aside from Old And In The Way, there were similar moves towards progressive bluegrass all over the country at this time. Artists like John Hartford and New Grass Revival were carving out similar territory, and all sorts of younger, long-haired bluegrass groups were covering Bob Dylan songs and the like. Old And In The Way got more attention because of Garcia, but they were hardly alone in their approach to bluegrass.

In another way, however, a very dated way, Old And In The Way was distinctly different than other progressive bluegrass contemporaries. The world was a different place in 1973, and Old And In The Way didn't just have long hair, they sang songs about smoking pot. Back in '73, even popular rock bands were uneasy about actually recording songs about weed, for fear of not getting radio airplay. For example, Lowell George's widely covered 1970 trucker's anthem "Willin" ("Just give me weeds, whites and wine/And show me a sign") was daring indeed for the time, too daring even for most FM radio stations. I first heard Old And In The Way on a 10-watt college radio broadcast in 1973 (July 24, 1973 on KZSU-fm, 90.7 out of Stanford). I knew Garcia was in the band; that's why I was listening. As a 10th grade suburban California, I knew nothing about bluegrass. When I heard "Panama Red," not to mention "Lonesome LA Cowboy," I instantly decided that these guys were cool (hey, I was in the 10th grade). But with songs about weed, I was going to give the music a chance.

Looking backwards, many young bluegrass bands were marking the territory that Old And In The Way inhabited. However, few, if any, of those bands had the potent combination of the instrumental firepower of Vassar Clements and David Grisman and the quality songs of Peter Rowan, but none of them were singing songs about dope with an icon of psychedelia in the band. "Panama Red" plus Jerry Garcia put the group irrevocably on the side of long haired hippies, and that was what attracted attention to their music. Subsequent listening, by me and thousands of others, revealed the intricate beauty of bluegrass and the musical depth of Old And In The Way. However, it was Old And In The Way's mixture of weed and bluegrass that initially set them apart, putting a very 70s spin on the concept of pickin' and grinnin'.

Old And In The Way did have a predecessor of sorts, however, in the juxtaposition of bluegrass and vegetative recreation. If you look carefully at old rock posters and Bay Area club billings, you will find an obscure bluegrass band called The Smokey Grass Boys. The Smokey Grass Boys played in the Bay Area in late 1966 and early 1967. Despite their intentionally provocative name, as far as I know the band had no songs about weed, nor would that have been prudent at the time, but there is no question that the name was an intentional joke. The connection to Garcia and Old And In The Way isn't distant either: the group featured David Grisman on mandolin, Herb Petersen on guitar and Rick Shubb on banjo (scroll down for a 1967 photo). Just to be clear about this, that meant that the Smokey Grass Boys had a future member of Old And In The Way along with two other early 60s friends of Garcia's. Garcia had been friends with Herb Pedersen as early as 1962, and had met Shubb and Grisman subsequently. Shubb had even been Garcia's roommate when the Warlocks were formed in late 1965.

The Bluegrass Boys
Bluegrass is different than most musical sub-genres, since its genesis was the conscious product of one person, Bill Monroe. In the 1940s, many farmers from rural Appalachia ended up working in Midwestern factories, and found themselves missing what they had left behind, for all its privations. At a time when popular country music was becoming more modern and electric, Monroe chose to focus on acoustic music with traditional harmonies, yet played with a sophistication that approached contemporary music like be-bop. He called it bluegrass, and his band was Bill Monroe and The Bluegrass boys, a conscious evocation of the Kentucky bluegrass country.

By 1945, with World War 2 filling Midwestern factories with formerly rural residents of West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and elsewhere, bluegrass was a popular style of country music. Other bluegrass bands adopted similar names like The Clinch Mountain Boys (with Ralph and Carter Stanley) and the Blue Sky Boys (with Bill and Earl Bollick) and many others. Even if no one knew where Clinch Mountain was, it reminded fans of "back home," as did blue skies, which were probably in short supply in industrial Detroit. Ever since, a band with the appendix "Boys" was likely to be a bluegrass band. Younger, suburban bluegrass fans have been having fun with it ever since, with band names like Cambridge's Charles River Valley Boys (who did  bluegrass Beatles covers) and Jerry Garcia's own 1964 Asphalt Jungle Mountain Boys, with Eric Thompson and Jody Stecher (my personal favorite was the female Berkeley bluegrass band in the 90s called The All Girl Boys).

Thus, a 60s bluegrass band called The Smokey Grass Boys sounded very plausible to straight America, evoking both the Great Smoky Mountains and Kentucky bluegrass, encompassing the heartland of bluegrass music. Younger, hipper fans would of course instantly giggle at the name--particularly if they were stoned--but squares and grownups would not have noticed. Hiding in plain sight like this was common enough in the mid-60s. There was a Hollywood rock band called The Leaves, who had a modest hit with "Hey Joe," among other things, and their first album prominently featured a marijuana leaf on the cover. The album (a pretty good one, by the way) was on Pat Boone's label, but no one thought to find out why they had chosen that leaf. So illegal as marijuana was in the 60s, the Smokey Grass Boys had a convincing cover story for the squares, and a private joke for their friends. It's easy to laugh at what rubes the squares were back in the 60s, but of course as an old hippie, I had no idea what the references were on the covers of rap albums in the 80s and 90s, so what goes around, comes around.

Ralph Gleason's Dec 23 '66 SF Chronicle column mentions the Smokey Grass Boys
The Smokey Grass Boys
The Smokey Grass Boys were a bluegrass band, and bluegrass had few financial rewards, as all the jokes about banjo players attest ("What's the definition of optimism? A banjo player with a pager." "What's the most commonly used phrase by banjo players at work? 'Would you like fries with that?'"). Bluegrass in California in the 60s was a labor of love, not rewards, and Jerry Garcia and David Nelson, for their parts, had basically given it up, forming a jug band and then their own electric blues bands instead. Yet their few bluegrass peers were still sticking with it, forming The Smoky Grass Boys and playing what gigs they could find in the folk clubs, pizza parlors and coffee shops.

It's a bit murky when The Smokey Grass Boys actually began. David Grisman was out in California in late 1965, and it seems certain that was where he met Pedersen and Shubb, if he had not already met them on the bluegrass festival circuit, since the community of young bluegrass players was small and well-connected. As Garcia was living in a house with Rick Shubb on Waverley Street in Palo Alto at the time, I'm sure Garcia told Grisman where the best young banjo picker in the Bay Area--Jerry aside--could be found. The Smokey Grass Boys seem to have come about a year later, in late 1966. There were four members of The Smokey Grass Boys.

David Grisman came from suburban Hackensack, NJ, and had learned about bluegrass mandolin from his neighbor Ralph Rinzler. The talented Grisman picked up mandolin rapidly and got in on the Greenwich Village folk scene as a teenager. Grisman had met Garcia at a bluegrass festival in Sunset Park, Pennsylvania in the Summer of 1964.  Grisman, too, had been in a jug band, with John Sebastian, Maria D'Amato (later Muldaur) and others. The Even Dozen Jug Band album had been released on Elektra in 1964 to modest acclaim. At the end of 1965, Grisman visitied the West Coast. Grisman wrote the first published review of the Warlocks, praising their performances in the folk magazine Sing Out in late 1965.

Grisman had already recorded some bluegrass in 1966, although I don't think the material was released until somewhat later. Grisman also toured with Red Allen and the Kentuckains in 1966, filling the role of the great Frank Wakefield, pretty remarkable for someone from Hackensack. However, by the end of 1966 Grisman seems to have migrated back to California, apparently basing himself in Berkeley.

Herb Pedersen was from Berkeley. He had formed the Westport Singers with his friend, mandolinist Butch Waller. Pesersen and Jerry Garcia were the two of the hot young banjo pickers in the Bay Area, and while there is a gunslinger element to bluegrass, they were friends as well as rivals. According to writer John Einarson, Pedersen went with Garcia and many others to see Buck Owens and The Buckaroos at Forester Hall in Redwood City, in 1964, so Herb and Jerry went way back.

The Westport Singers evolved into the Pine Valley Boys in late 1962. The Pine Valley Boys made a real effort to make a living on the folk circuit, playing in Los Angeles and actually touring around some. When they played Southern California, they were joined by classically-trained-violinist-turned-fiddler Richard Greene. During the 1964 period, David Nelson joined Pedersen and Waller in the PVB. However, by mid-1966, the Pine Valley Boys had kind of ground to a halt.

Rick Shubb was from California, but he had moved to Palo Alto because he wanted to be where the folk scene was happening. Shubb was another hot young banjo picker, as well as an accomplished artist, and he rapidly became friends with the few other bohemian bluegrassers. In late 1965 Shubb took a lease on a big Edwardian house on Waverley Street in Palo Alto, a purple house with turrets, and many of his friends filled up the various rooms in the house. Among his co-tenants were Jerry and Sarah Garcia and future Magic Theater artist Gayle Curtis. David Nelson and other co-conspirators lived a few blocks away, in a house on Channing Avenue.

Jil Haber was the bass player, but I don't know that much about her. OK, I do know that she married David Grisman and guitarist Monroe Grisman is their son, so it's not hard to guess the connection, but I'm not sure where she was from nor how she ended up as a girl Smokey Grass Boy. I'm not even certain I have spelled her name correctly--hopefully someone who knows can sort this out.

Bay Area Bluegrass Music, Fall 1966
In the early 1960s, folk music was popular. Serious young musicians like Jerry Garcia or Jorma Kaukonen focused on the more serious forms of folk, like bluegrass or finger-style blues guitar, leaving the sing-alongs to would be members of the Kingston Trio. Still, there at least seemed like there was a chance to make it as a folk musician, and not to be reduced to getting a "real job." By 1965, a few critical events had changed everybody's perspective:
  • In August, 1964, The Beatles movie A Hard Day's Night was released. Up until then, rock music had been trivial music for kids, but something changed. A future member of The Byrds said "I felt my hair growing longer in the theater." Garcia and the other future members of The Warlocks felt the same thing. A Hard Day's Night was a mass phenomenon only comparable to the Harry Potter books today. I saw A Hard Day's Night in the theater when it came out, and here I am writing a blog about music many decades later. Draw your own conclusions.
  • In March, 1965, Bob Dylan released his Bringing It All Back Home album, with the electric and electrifying opening track, "Subterranean Homesick Blues." This was followed a few months later by the lengthy and even more electric "Like A Rolling Stone" single. The leading folk musician was unquestionably on board with the Beatles.
  • Meanwhile, more and more people were hearing about something called LSD-25, and by late 1965, if you were hip enough or lucky enough, you could go to a party where everybody was taking the then legal drug, and certain doors of perception were opened very wide. 
In June, 1965, a Los Angeles group called The Byrds released an electric version of Bob Dylan's song "Mr. Tambourine Man," and folk-rock was born. By the end of 1965, folk music in California had largely dissolved in a cloud of funny-colored smoke. In San Francisco and Los Angeles, as well as the rest of the country, folk musicians plugged in, found a drummer, converted someone to bass and turned up the amplifier. Outside of a few East Coast strongholds, folk clubs and coffee houses either closed or started booking rock bands. In many cases, of course, these rock bands featured the same people who had been playing folk music there a few months earlier.

When The Smokey Grass Boys started to play around The Bay Area in late 1966, they were among a relatively small number of players who had still not "gone electric." Actual gigs were few and far between, and I only know of two venues for certain where The Smokey Grass Boys actually played. Both of them were very hip, bohemian long haired places, and the band's name was partially intended as a clear indicator that although the music might have been traditional, its performers were up-to-date. Rick Shubb says there were performances at a few other venues, like pizza parlors (probably at the Straw Hat chain), but not that many. At this point, our knowledge of Smokey Grass Boys shows is confined to two hip little folk venues, both of them to close shortly afterwards, squeezed by the rock explosion.

Smokey Grass Boys Performance History
The first (and misspelled) listing of The Smokey Grass Boys, from issue 71 of the Berkeley Barb, December 1966
December 23-25, 1966  The Jabberwock, Berkeley: Smokey Grass Boys/Don Garrett
The Jabberwock, at 2901 Telegraph Avenue (at Russell), was Berkeley's leading folk venue from 1965 to 1967. The house band, The Instant Action Jug Band, who lived next door, evolved into Country Joe and The Fish. CJF rehearsed at the Jabberwock, although by Fall 1966 they were too successful to play there. The Jabberwock was a tiny place, but it was the center of Berkeley hip music.

December 29-31, 1966 40 Cedar Alley, San Francisco: The Smokey Grass Boys
40 Cedar Alley, the address as well the name of a San Francisco coffee house that presented music, was either ahead of or behind the times. 40 Cedar Alley is near the corner of Geary and Larkin, not far from the site of the Great American Music Hall. The little joint was connected to the Cedar Alley Cinema, which presented foreign and art films and the like. The Coffee House presented odd performers that would now be deemed 'World Music.' The little club missed the folk boom, and was too early for the diversity of musical styles that would follow some decades later. Nonetheless, some very interesting acts played there.

January 6-8, 1966 The Jabberwock, Berkeley: Smokey Grass Boys

January 19, 1966 The Jabberwock, Berkeley: Smokey Grass Boys

January 23, 1967 The Jabberwock, Berkeley: Smokey Grass Boys, The New Age, Larry Hanks and The Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band Berkeley Free Press Benefit
All of the groups at this benefit were obscure, but they were all ahead of their time, in typical Berkeley fashion. Besides the Smokey Grass Boys, The New Age were pretty much the first to make 'New Age' music, whether or not the genre was named after them. The Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band, besides being the other group formed out of the melange of the Instant Action Jug Band, ended up making the infamous Masked Marauders album in 1969.

January 25, 1967 40 Cedar Alley, San Francisco: Smokey Grass Boys

January 26, 1967 The Jabberwock, Berkeley: Smokey Grass Boys
Most of the Smoky Grass Boys shows at The Jabberwock were on weeknights, which for a folk club meant that many of the patrons were simply dropping by. Performers who had built up a following usually played on weekends, so it doesn't seem like The Smoky Grass Boys had really jumped over that hurdle.

January 27, 28 or 29, 1967 The Jabberwock, Berkeley: Smokey Grass Boys/dozens of others
The Jabberwock held a three day benefit for itself, with over a dozen acts. Who played which night remains uncertain. Besides The Smokey Grass Boys, performers included Sandy Rothman and 'Blind Ebbetts Field,' namely Barry Melton in his solo bluesman mode. As a mark of the times, there was a light show (by Head Lights).

February 9, 1967 The Jabberwock, Berkeley: Smokey Grass Boys

February 15, 1967 40 Cedar Alley, San Francisco: Smokey Grass Boys
The last trace of The Smokey Grass Boys was at 40 Cedar Alley, on a Wednesday. The exact demise of the Smokey Grass Boys remains obscure. Most likely, they simply stopped getting booked. All the members remained around the Bay Area for a while. David Grisman was in the East Bay at least as late as June, 1967, performing at the Jabberwock as a substitute member of The Charles River Valley Boys. Indeed, Rick Shubb played the last public notes at The Jabberwock, joining Doc Watson on July 8, 1967. By that time, however, with the Summer Of Love in full swing, bluegrass music seemed passe indeed.

From what little I know, it appears that the Smokey Grass Boys played traditional bluegrass material. Typically, young 60s bluegrass bands played standard bluegrass songs and a few original instrumentals, albeit ones based on various bluegrass classics. Despite their undoubtedly fine musicianship and hip name, The Smokey Grass Boys were a traditional bluegrass band. If they had concocted a song about weed, things might have been different, but that barrier would be breached by one Smokey Grass Boy and a few of their friends about six years later.

David Grisman returned to the East Coast in mid-1967 and formed a psychedelic rock band in Cambridge, MA, like everyone else, with his friend Peter Rowan. Earth Opera recorded two albums on Elektra and were an interesting rock band, but they never made it. Grisman went into management, and returned to the West Coast about 1970. He went on to help found Old And In The Way with Peter Rowan and Jerry Garcia, revolutionizing bluegrass music. He then formed The Great American String Band, with some assistance from Garcia, which then evolved into the David Grisman Quintet, and they revolutionized American acoustic music. Plus he started his own label, and a million other things. When I saw Grisman and Rowan in Marin in 1997, Grisman mentioned The Smokey Grass Boys, and winked broadly at the crowd, just in case anyone thought the name referred to Kentucky.

I know a lot less about Jil Haber, but she does have a successful recording and performing career as Harmony Grisman. David Grisman had since remarried, but Monroe Grisman, the true progeny of the band, has had a notable musical career as well.

Herb Pedersen backed the great bluegrass duo Vern And Ray for a few years, and toured with them until about 1968. Pedersen then headed to Southern California, joining The Dillards. Pedersen also became a first call player in the LA session scene, recording with the likes of Linda Ronstadt and many others. Pedersen toured with Ronstadt as well. In 1987, Pedersen teamed up with ex-Byrd Chris Hillman and guitarist John Jorgensen in the Desert Rose Band, a very successful hybrid of bluegrass vocals and Buck Owens music. The Desert Rose Band's first hit in was the old bluegrass classic "Ashes Of Love," so in a manner of speaking Pedersen made it as a bluegrass musician after all. The Desert Rose Band had a successful run until 1994, when they parted amicably. They have had a few reunion shows in the 21st century. When Pedersen performs live these days, it's often with his bluegrass group, The Laurel Canyon Ramblers.

In 1996, when David Grisman reformed Old And In The Way, he invited Herb Pedersen to play the banjo as well as sing "Pig In A Pen" and "White Dove," Garcia's numbers with the band.  It was an appropriate choice, as Pedersen was a contemporary and friend of the band's first banjo player. Over the years, Pedersen has performed and recorded regularly with Peter Rowan, Grisman and others, as Old And In The Gray, finally singing the bluegrass songs about weed that The Smoky Grass Boys should have been singing in the first place.

Rick Shubb made the poster for the April 26-28, 1974 Golden State Bluegrass Festival
Rick Shubb, for all his friends and connections, never "went electric." He was definitely part of the 60s scene, making some great posters for the Carousel Ballroom, for example. With his friend Earl (Dr. Humbead) Crabb, Shubb drew the remarkable "Humbead's Map Of The World," which has to be seen full-size to be fully appreciated. Yet Shubb stuck to bluegrass and acoustic music. With his partner Bob Wilson, and his wife Markee Shubb, he put out some acoustic albums. He also continued to play bluegrass in a variety of bands.

Remarkably, however, defying every joke ever about banjo players, Shubb invented a capo for banjos, and has sold a million of them. Not a metaphorical million--an actual million. A capo is a fretting device, usually attached to a guitar, that allows a musician to play certain chords more easily (to quote Bob Weir "in common circles, it's called a 'cheater'"). For various reasons, there were technical and musical difficulties with capo for a banjo, but Shubb solved them. He had a machinist build his capo, and in 1979 Shubb sold the first one to his old roommate and friend Jerry Garcia, screwing it on Jerry's banjo himself. A million more followed. Shubb has had a remarkable career in many ways, too long to encapsulate here, but along with Garcia and Herb Pedersen, he showed that there was hope for banjo players after all.

The Smokey Grass Boys, whatever they exactly sounded like, were far ahead of their time. A few years later, when the music world was ready for hippie bluegrass, a band with that name might have gotten somewhere. As it was, they were confined to a few little Bay Area folk clubs and some distant, unclaimed memories. Apparently, a tape or two of the band does exist, not really of releasable quality, but at least the music is not fully lost.

Friday, September 14, 2012

David Nelson Musical Activities, February 1968-May 1969 (David Nelson V)

An ad for Berkeley's Freight and Salvage, from the Berkeley Barb of February 14, 1969. High Country, with David Nelson, was advertised for the following Thursday, February 20
After the demise of The New Delhi River Band at the end of January, 1968, David Nelson bided his time and worked on new ventures. Most of them didn't pan out, but given his importance in the arc of the careers in Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter, it's useful to sketch out what I know about what Nelson was attempting between the New Delhi River Band and the beginning of the New Riders of The Purple Sage. Anyone with corrections, insights, additional information or recovered memories (real or imagined) is encouraged to Comment or email me.

New Delhi River Band, 1968
By the beginning of 1968, the New Delhi River Band just seemed to run out of shows to play. There seemed to be no hostility or falling out amongst the members---indeed they kept rejoining bands with each other--but the band appeared to have simply become no longer viable. Bassist Dave Torbert and drummer Chris Herold went on to form a group called Shango, and had a variety of other adventures, but that will be the subject of a different post. Nelson, meanwhile, seems to follow his own path. What follows is what little I have been able to determine about Nelson's music from early 1968 until mid-1969.

February-October 1968
For about 9 months in 1968, I can find no trace of any public musical activities by David Nelson. Presumably he laid low and made a living some other way. It does not appear that he was in an electric band nor that he was playing bluegrass or acoustic music, either. My only piece of knowledge about Nelson at this time was that he somehow had acquired an Indian motorcycle, a not-expensive but nonetheless exotic ride.

The cover to the Grateful Dead's June, 1969 album Aoxomoxoa, with cover art by Rick Griffin
Aoxomoxoa Sessions, Fall 1968
Nelson reappeared on the Grateful Dead scene in about October of 1968. Nelson hung out and participated in the Aoxomoxoa sessions at Pacific Recording in San Mateo during that time. I don't believe Nelson played a significant role in the final recordings, but he was around and he was mentioned on the back of the album. From 1966 to '68, both Nelson and Jerry Garcia had been very busy with their respective bands, and it's unlikely they saw much of each other. With Nelson unencumbered, however, there was considerably more time to hang out.

Sometime in August, 1968, the Grateful Dead at least toyed with the idea of replacing Bob Weir and Pigpen. McNally describes the infamous band meeting where they were both "fired," although the Grateful Dead continued to perform with both of them. Weir was convinced that he was out of the band, but he stuck it out, and in the end the firing didn't stick (p.276-279). However, during this period, the Grateful Dead at least had some jams with other guitarists. Whether, exactly, these were auditions is for you to decide, but it certainly looked that way. Via David Gans, we know that Nelson was invited to jam with the Dead, sans Weir and Pigpen, at Pacific Recording in Fall '68. The first number they tried was "The Eleven." In any case, Nelson remained a friend of the band, and Weir remained in the Grateful Dead.

Jam Sessions, David Nelson/Tim Abbott/Chris Herold, late 1968
Guitarist Tim Abbott had been in a Redwood City blues band called The Good News. When they broke up in October 1966, Chris Herold and Dave Torbert were free to join the New Delhi River Band. Abbott went on to a stint in the legendary Chocolate Watch Band, San Jose's finest. When Abbott left the Watch Band due to management issues, he rejoined Torbert and Herold in the group Shango, along with Matt Kelly and others. Abbott left Shango after a few months, but when the successor group to Shango (called Horses) folded, Herold and Abbott formed a group called Haywire.

When Haywire, too, faded away by the end of 1968, Herold and Abbott had a few jams with David Nelson, with an eye towards forming a group. However, according to Abbott, his guitar style did not particularly mesh with Nelson's, and nothing came of the jams.

Big Brother Warehouse, early 1969
In early 1969, David Nelson was apparently living in the rehearsal space warehouse of Big Brother And The Holding Company. Although Big Brother had been hugely successful, when Janis Joplin left the group they immediately disintegrated. The last show with Janis was at the Avalon on December 1, 1968, so Big Brother wouldn't have had much to do afterwards. Big Brother bassist Peter Albin was an old high school friend of Nelson's; indeed, according to legend, Albin had been with Nelson in Kepler's Books in Menlo Park when they first came across Garcia.

The Pete Frame New Riders Family Tree lists Nelson, Albin, Big Brother drummer Dave Getz and violinist Ed Bogas as a sort of jamming ensemble during this period. The classically trained Bogas had also been a high school friend of Albin's, and he had been a member of the Liberty Hill Aristrocrats, an old-time string band featuring Peter and Rodney Albin and various other intermittent members. However, since Albin and Getz went out on tour with Country Joe And The Fish in early March, the time frame for the jamming is constricted. However, I do know that Albin and Getz played at least one show--probably only one show--and I have to suspect Nelson was present if not actually a featured performer. David Gans was kind enough to ask Nelson about this, and Nelson confirms that he was present.

Sf Chronicle Datebook listing from Monday, January 6, 1969 The top item says "ROCK CLUB--Peter Albin and Dave Getz in a jam session at the Matrix, 3138 Fillmore"
From 1968 through 1970, the Matrix had a "jam session." These jams played an important role in Grateful Dead history, or at least in Jerry Garcia's musical history. Garcia was a regular, if intermittent visitor at Matrix jams. In early 1970 he showed up to jam with a guy named Howard Wales, who was hosting the jam session along with drummer Bill Vitt. Vitt in turn invited bassist John Kahn, and the roots of the Kahn/Garcia partnership and the Jerry Garcia Band were founded there.

In general, the Matrix usually advertised a host for the jam, and he in turn brought a few musicians, and if patrons were lucky some friends of the host would show up as well. In the parlance of the time, an ad that said "Elvin Bishop-Jam" meant that Elvin Bishop would play, but he might not necessarily have his regular band, and he wouldn't be playing his regular set. Of course, there would be some jamming, usually just the blues in A, but 'jam' really meant 'non-standard.' At various times in 1968 and 1969, the Monday night jam at the Matrix was hosted by Elvin Bishop, Carlos Santana, Howard Wales and other names familiar to people who read the backs of San Francisco albums. In any case, on January 6, 1969, the hosts for the Matrix jam were Peter Albin and Dave Getz of Big Brother. What material Nelson may have actually played with his friends remains obscure.

High Country, early 1969
High Country had originally been formed as a bluegrass duet, comprising mandolinist Butch Waller and guitarist Mylos Sonka. The duo's principal performing venue appears to have been Berkeley's Freight And Salvage. Waller was from Walnut Creek, and he was an old friend of Nelson and Garcia from the early 60s, when there were very few aspiring young bluegrass players in the Bay Area. Nelson was even in Waller's group, The Pine Valley Boys, for about a year in 1964-65.

By 1969, High Country had started to evolve. I have been unable to track all the details, but since there were so few bluegrass players in the rock-centric Bay Area in 1969, everyone seems to have gone through the group. Sonka was replaced by Rich Wilbun, and old Garcia pal Peter Grant joined on banjo. Grant seems to have alternated High Country dates with fellow former Palo Altan Rick Shubb, whose wife Markie Shubb played bass sometimes. David Nelson and Richard Greene then joined High Country as well (Greene, too, had been in the Pine Valley Boys), although Nelson and Greene did not play every show.

How long or how often Nelson played with High Country is uncertain. The only taped evidence of Nelson's time with High Country is a tape from the Matrix, apparently from February 19, 1969. However, neither Shubb nor Grant seems to have been available, so another old Palo Altan, Jerry Garcia filled in on banjo, playing along on some bluegrass standards, which is probably why the tape got recorded and preserved. In any case, Rick Shubb has confirmed that Nelson was a member of High Country for at least a few shows.

David Gans was kind of enough to pursue the question of High Country with Nelson himself, who when asked where he played with High Country, recently recalled:
The Matrix, believe it or not. And a couple in Berkeley - Freight and Salvage, if it was happening then. Then we went down to Charles Krug Winery in Los Gatos area for two days, with Pete Grant playing banjo.
A close look at the early history of Berkeley's Freight and Salvage shows High Country listed on February 20, 1969, the day after the putative Matrix show. This lends credence to the Matrix date as February 19, even though the Dead played Fillmore West that night. My current theory is that the Matrix show was a sort of "dinner show" at about six o'clock. It's fascinating to at least think that Garcia may have at least contemplated playing the Freight and Salvage, even though he probably didn't. In any case, here's what I think is the somewhat confirmed itinerary for David Nelson as a member of High Country:
Wednesday, February 19, 1969: The Matrix (afternoon)
    Butch Waller, David Nelson, Jerry Garcia, Rich Wilbun (bs)
Thursday, February 20, 1969: Freight and Salvage, Berkeley
    Waller, Nelson, Wilbun (gtr), Rick Shubb (banjo), Markie Shubb (bs)
Friday-Saturday, February 21-22: Charles Krug Winery, Los Gatos
    Waller, Nelson, Richard Greene (fiddle), Peter Grant (banjo), Wilbun (bs)
Hopefully more information will slowly bubble to the surface. Nelson seems to have played intermittently but regularly with High Country in the late 68/early 69 period.

The cover to the 1970 album Be A Brother, by Big Brother And The Holding Company, the band's excellent but underrated post-Janis album. It's unclear if any of David Nelson's guitar parts ended up getting used on the record, but he definitely participated in some of the earlier sessions.
Spring 1969
Nelson's trail disappears for the Spring of '69. While Albin and Getz toured Europe with Country Joe and The Fish, starting in March, they initially left Nelson as caretaker of their warehouse. Soon afterwards, Nelson moved to Haight Street, near Divisadero (near the Both/And, 1090 Page street and the Harding Theater, among other landmarks). When Albin and Getz returned from the European tour with Joe and Barry, members of Big Brother headed to Los Angeles to work on recording. Nelson went with them (quote via Gans):
Went to studio in LA with Big Brother to do some guitar tracks. Sam had some songs and they had some studio time, thinking of a new record - which later became Be A Brother. That was the first time I had to join a union. Columbia Studio in LA. Classic studio, with a clock like a school clock ' "Time is money!" My first experience of the musicians' union. I had to pay $500 to join 'cause it was in LA.
Be A Brother, by Big Brother And The Holding Company, was an excellent album, given no chance because it lacked Janis. Yet its interesting to find out that Nelson may have played some of the many guitar tracks on the record.

However, as I have discussed at length elsewhere, in May of 1969 Jerry Garcia decided to play pedal steel guitar as John Dawson's sideman, while Dawson played his new songs, at a tiny hippie hofbrau in Menlo Park. All signs point to Garcia's first appearance with Dawson at The Underground on May 7 or May 14. I am personally inclined to May 7 for the debut. Nelson said that he missed the first one, but Dawson called him for the second one, which I take to be May 14, 1969. By June, and a few more dates at The Underground, the idea of the New Riders Of The Purple Sage was born, and the band played its first show on July 16, at Longshoreman's Hall.

The listing from Ralph Gleason's Ad Lib column in the SF Chronicle on August 6, 1969, the first public use of the New Riders Of The Purple Sage name
There is a variety of indirect evidence that Nelson and Dawson had spent the preceding months talking about forming a group of some kind. Dawson had written some nice songs, and Nelson didn't have a band. The pairing would make a lot of sense, but it had no form or traction. Nelson has alluded to this period a little bit, but the one detailed interview he gave had his own timeline somewhat garbled, and has to be taken with a grain of salt. According to Nelson, however, after the first, casual appearance by Garcia with Dawson, Dawson called him and said "Jerry wants to do it and he'll play pedal steel." Nelson clearly knew what Dawson was referring to, so the idea must have been at least floating around. What was unprecedented was an actual rock star being willing to act as a sideman, and on a new instrument at that.

Although Nelson had moved from the demise of the New Delhi River Band in February 1968 to the birth of the New Riders Of The Purple Sage 15 months later, the tendrils of The New Delhi River Band remained thoroughly entwined in his tale. When Bob Matthews and then Phil Lesh stepped away as bassist for the New Riders, Nelson and Dawson called on old friend Dave Torbert to step up in April 1970, and Torbert helped the Riders graduate from being a sort of Garcia hobby to a serious band. I am convinced that Nelson and Torbert would have brought Chris Herold in on drums to replace Mickey Hart as well, in December 1970, but Herold was unable to work as a full-time musician at the time, as he was fulfilling his Conscientious Objector obligation by driving a hospital truck.

After the New Riders Of The Purple Sage took root in August of 1969--their first show under that name was August 6 at The Matrix--David Nelson was permanently entwined with the Grateful Dead story. In fact, Nelson had always been part of the narrative, if somewhat in the background. Once the New Riders became a working band, however, Nelson came back into a much closer orbit around the gravitational pull of Garcia's music.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Album Projects Recorded at Mickey Hart's Barn, Novato, CA 1971-76

Reputedly the entrance to Mickey Hart's ranch, somewhere in Novato (photo: JGMF)
Sometime in 1969, Mickey Hart moved to an unused ranch near Novato Road in Novato, CA, in Marin County. Neither Hart nor the Grateful Dead had much money at the time. Nonetheless, land in rural Novato was cheap in those days--believe it or not--and Hart found a way. According to McNally, the land belonged to the city of Novato, and Hart was technically the caretaker, for the princely sum of just $250 a month. The ranch rapidly became a clubhouse for the boys in the band and their crew. Apparently some members of the crew lived on the ranch between tours. At least some key crew members were from the tiny cattle ranching town of Hermiston, OR. Hart was actually an experienced horseman, surprisingly enough, but I suspect the crew members must have introduced the suburbanites who made up the rest of the Grateful Dead to the pleasures of rural Oregon: riding horses, shooting off guns and so on.

Sometime in late 1970, a studio was built on Hart's ranch, in the barn. At this time, home studios were not really viable propositions, so a band member having his own studio was a radical concept. Having a home studio in a room big enough to include a whole rock band was even more radical. The Dead's finances were even worse in 1970 than they were in 1969, so how the studio was financed is also in question. JGMF found some evidence that Columbia Records helped to put down some money for it. My own thesis was that producer Alan Douglas was romancing the Dead on behalf of Columbia president Clive Davis, in the hopes that the Dead would sign with Columbia when their Warner Brothers Records contract expired. [Update: McNally said that Dan Healy provided the designs for the electronics, and former Carousel Ballroom carpenter Johnny De Foncesca Sr actually built the renovations.]

Mickey Hart left the Grateful Dead in February, 1971, but he didn't leave the Grateful Dead orbit. Hart's studio, alternately called The Barn or Rolling Thunder on the backs of albums, was the first studio facility that was completely in control of a member or members of the Grateful Dead. It was  followed by the studio in Bob Weir's garage (usually called Ace's), and then by Club Front.

In the early 1970s, recording studios in San Francisco were doing big business. Places like Wally Heider's, Columbia Studios and many others were making a lot of records. However,  while those studios were excellent, they were also expensive and had to be booked far in advance. Hart's Barn in Novato offered a low-key alternative for the Grateful Dead and their friends and fellow travelers.

It's my contention that the Grateful Dead's ill-fated but fascinating effort to go independent in late 1972 was predicated on the availability of Mickey Hart's studio. Something like a Jerry Garcia solo album could be recorded at a major studio, but some of the more quixotic projects that the Dead were involved in had different financing and scheduling issues, and The Barn was perfect. This post will review the various album projects that appear to have been undertaken at The Barn from 1971 through 1976, considered in the context of Round Records and the music industry, rather than specifically with reference to the music that was produced. For clarity,  I have chosen to refer to the studio as The Barn rather than as Rolling Thunder.

The Grateful Dead's plan to have their own record companies, Grateful Dead and Round, was years ahead of its time. The idea to have a dedicated studio at The Barn was also years ahead of its time. Both plans were too far ahead of their time to make economic sense. A few decades later, many acts had their own record companies and worked out of home studios, recording whatever they liked--David Grisman is a great current example--but the Dead started the train rolling before the track was finished. This post will look at the Dead's effort to be a forward looking, independent music company from the point of view of the album projects recorded at The Barn in Novato from 1971 through 1976.

The cover to Mickey Hart's 1972 Warner Brothers lp Rolling Thunder
Rolling Thunder-Mickey Hart (Warner Bros BS 2635, released September 1972)
Warner Brothers gave Mickey Hart a three-album deal in 1971, soon after he left the Grateful Dead. Why would a record company give a three-album deal to a drummer, one who had neither sang nor composed with his prior group? I have written at length about my theory that with the Grateful Dead's popularity rising and their Warner Brothers records contract expiring, both Warners and Columbia were trying to offer incentives to sign with them. Warner Brothers had offered solo deals to Garcia and Weir, and by offering one to Hart they probably figured that the Dead would be well-disposed towards them.

In Fall '72, the Grateful Dead shocked the industry by going completely independent. Warners released Hart's first solo album, Rolling Thunder, while the Dead were still under contract to them. Probably Warners still hoped that the Grateful Dead could be talked out of their madness. Rolling Thunder is a fascinating album and period piece in many ways, but it did not have a radio-friendly sound and it rapidly disappeared.

Rolling Thunder was apparently recorded over a period of 18 months, and features an All-Star cast of San Francisco-based musicians, including Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Stephen Stills, members of the Jefferson Airplane, the Tower of Power horns and many more. Although the record was recorded in The Barn, it was mixed at Alembic Studios in San Francisco. Alembic, at 60 Brady Street,  had formerly been known as Pacific High Recorders. The Dead had recorded Workingman's Dead at PHR, and the room had a reputation as a particularly fine venue for mixing tapes. The Barn was designed as a place to record, rather than as a place to finish off albums, a task more suited to the equipment of full-time studios.

"Fire On The Mountain" album project-Mickey Hart (1972-73)
For the second album of his deal, Hart produced a more conventional album. Although its impossible to know for certain what was intended, a circulating version has about 13 tracks, and the first song is an early version of "Fire On The Mountain." The vocals appear to be by Robert Hunter, and they are sung in a sort of chanted rap--not exactly Gil Scott-Heron, but definitely spoken rather than sung. Presumably, "Fire On The Mountain" was intended as the title track of the proposed album.

The rest of the prospective album had fairly conventional songs, with few of the strange sonic and musical experiments (like "Insect Fear") that had characterized Rolling Thunder. Vocals were by the likes of David Frieberg and Barry Melton. A few other Hunter compositions turned up on the tape, as well, such as "I Heard You Singing." The musicians were part of the same Marin County suspects that had played on Rolling Thunder, but somewhat less high profile players. The "Fire On The Mountain" tape that I have heard would have made a much better record than Rolling Thunder, but Warner Brothers rejected the album.

By mid-1973, the Grateful Dead had fully left Warner Brothers, and presumably Warners had no corporate interest in a loss leader project that supported the band's now departed drummer. Since Warner Brothers didn't hear an obvious hit on the proposed album, I presume they simply passed. Hart probably recognized the reality of what was happening.

[Soundtrack album for 'The Silent Flute' film]-Mickey Hart (1973)
The third album that Hart submitted to fulfill his contract was the soundtrack to a martial arts film. Supposedly this tape was rejected by Warners without being listened to, but the story may be apocryphal. I have to assume that Hart expected them to reject the album anyway, and that he simply submitted a tape from a project he was working on. I'm sure Hart made interesting music for the film, but I have to doubt that Warners would ever have been truly interested.

Does anyone have any idea of the title of the martial arts film? Was it even released? Was it a Bruce Lee type action movie, or some sort of documentary or training film? I know that Hart was interested in various kinds of martial arts, so his connection isn't surprising, but it's fascinating to think that there may have been some late night Kung Fu flick that has "Soundtrack-Mickey Hart" in the credits.

Update: thanks to a Commenter, we know that the album project was called The Silent Flute. A tape circulates, featuring ambient music played by Hart, Garcia and others. Thanks to another Commenter, we know that there was a1973 Bruce Lee project called The Silent Flute, which was halted when Bruce Lee passed away. The project was remade and released in 1978 as Circle Of Iron, with David Carradine (of Kung Fu fame) in the starring role. Was Hart's Silent Flute music intended for the Bruce Lee project?

The cover to Area Code 615's 1970 Polydor album Trip In The Country
"Area Code 415" album project (1973)
A tape has circulated that was made concurrently or shortly after the "Fire On The Mountain" project, generally labeled as "Area Code 415." At the time, the entire Bay Area was area code 415, including the East Bay (now 510), Contra Costa County (now 925), the Peninsula (now 650), San Jose (now 408) and the Santa Cruz area (now 831). Thus all Bay Area musicians would have used area code 415.

A band of Nashville session musicians had made some excellent country rock albums under the name Area Code 615, which was the area code for Nashville. Some heavy Nashville session men, led by guitarist Wayne Moss, who had played on many rock albums such as Blonde On Blonde, had decided to record as a rock group. Area Code 615 released two albums, Area Code 615 (1969) and Trip In The Country (1970). The albums were not huge hits, but they got played on FM radio and were well known amongst musicians and industry pros. Area Code 615 only toured a little bit, since they all made so much money from recording, but they did open once at the Fillmore West from February 12-15, 1970 (Country Joe and The Fish and The Sons topped the bill). Many of the members of Area Code 615 went on to form the group Barefoot Jerry, who had a sort of FM hit with the great song "Watching TV With The Radio On."

Thus, a tape of Bay Area musicians working together in a loose aggregation could be called Area Code 415, and locals and industry professionals would have gotten both the joke and the business concept. I have to think that the tape we know as Area Code 415, which is about 22 songs, including some from "Fire On The Mountain" and other projects on this list, was at least informally circulated amongst record companies for possible release. If so, their must have been no bites. While I find the Area Code 415 material enjoyable, it has a flatter sound that was a bit dated compared to 70s acts like The Doobie Brothers or Steely Dan, who sounded much brighter.

The cover to an Old And In The Way live cd, recorded in October 1973
Old And In The Way album project (Spring 1973)
The most interesting, most mysterious and completely unheard project recorded at The Barn was the Old And In The Way studio album, apparently recorded in March or April of 1973. The recording can be dated by a reference in a review found by JGMF. The timeline suggests that Old And In The Way got together and recorded an album almost immediately after forming, perhaps thinking that they could get an independently released album out within a few months. Yet the tape has never surfaced, in any form. At various times, members of the band have alluded to the fact that they were unsatisfied with the results. Ultimately, Owsley recorded Old And In The Way's next-to-last show live, and those tapes were the source of both the February 1975 album and two archival cds released in the 1990s.

What was wrong with the Old And In The Way studio album? Of course, if it was recorded in March or April 1973, the band had only been together a short time, and some of the arrangements may not have been fully fleshed out. (It's my current hypothesis, by the way, that lacking a fiddle player, Old And In The Way brought in the great John Hartford for the recording, thus accounting for the peculiar situation where Hartford is constantly referred to as a former member although there seems to be no evidence of a gig where he played live.)

Nonetheless, for experienced musicians, bluegrass arrangements come quickly. Bluegrass is recorded live--it wasn't Terrapin Station. Are we to believe that not a single take of any song was worthy of release, even as a bonus track 20 years later? I believe there were no contractual problems associated with anyone in Old And In The Way, so no lawyers would have gotten in the way of a release. Why have the Old And In The Way studio tapes disappeared?

The most plausible explanation for the Old And In The Way studio tapes staying in the vault would be that the actual recorded sound was very unsatisfying. Musicians are considerably more bothered by poor recordings than civilians, and if the band members didn't like the recorded sound, they would have simply buried the tape. In general, tapes recorded at The Barn had a kind of tinny, 60s feel to them. Sometimes a thin sound can be very effective on a recording, such as on Electric Music For The Mind And Body, Country Joe and The Fish's 1967 debut album. Mind And Body didn't have the sheen of Revolver, but it had an immediacy that makes the record very powerful.

If the sound for a recording is wrong, however, no amount of studio trickery can really fix it. Up until this time, no truly acoustic project had been recorded at The Barn. Notice also that the Old And In The Way was the first genuine Garcia project recorded at The Barn. Garcia had been involved intermittently with Rolling Thunder, but Old And In The Way would have been his first full project. Given that the Dead were self-financing in 1973, working at Mickey Hart's studio would have been a lot cheaper than recording in San Francisco at The Record Plant (I am confident that Hart was paid for the use of his studio, by the way). I would note, however, that the Old And In The Way project was Garcia's last project at The Barn before they got a new mixing board (see below).

I think The Barn was falling behind as a professional studio in 1973, and it was a particularly poor room for acoustic music. I think both Garcia and Grisman, and probably one Mr. Owsley Stanley, were very unhappy with the sound quality of the Old And In The Way recording, and seem to have buried it where it can never be found. I hope it remains intact as part of Owsley's taped legacy, whatever its quality.

The cover to Barry Melton's 1975 album The Fish, a UK only released on UA Records
The Fish-Barry Melton album project (1973-74)
Betty Cantor engineered and produced a Barry Melton solo album at The Barn entitled The Fish. By the time the album was released in 1975, however, it had been entirely re-recorded in Wales. I take this chain of events to suggest that the record industry did not like the sound of tapes recorded at The Barn, and the history of The Fish is one of the indirect reasons that I hold to my theory that Garcia, Grisman and Owsley rejected the sound of the Old And In The Way tapes. I have speculated at length about the history of the recording of this album, so I won't recap it all here.

The cover to Robert Hunter's 1974 album Tales Of The Great Rum Runners, the first release on Round Records
Tales Of The Great Rum Runners-Robert Hunter (Round Records RX-101, released June 1974)
The first release on Jerry Garcia's Round Records label was thoroughly unexpected, as it was an album by the Dead's hitherto mysterious lyricist Robert Hunter. I have quite a lot to say about the reasoning behind this release, but that is a subject for another (no doubt lengthy) post. Since Tales Of The Great Rum Runners was released in June 1974, the album must have been recorded at The Barn earlier in 1974. Jerry Garcia and a few other Grateful Dead members make appearances, and numerous other Bay Area locals--the Area Code 415 crowd--play on it as well.

Then and now, Tales Of The Great Rum Runners was a fascinating if flawed album. One of its major flaws was that it just didn't sound that great by 1974 standards. Jerry Garcia mixed the album, but over at Alembic. Hunter's semi-electric music may have been more amenable to the sound of The Barn than Old And In The Way, but it can't have been completely satisfying. Round Records was independent, however, so working at The Record Plant wasn't really a financial option.

Roadhog album project (1974)
A recent and curious tape has surfaced of what appears to be some sort of album project for the band Roadhog. Robert Hunter played around the Bay Area with Roadhog in 1976, but the band had existed for sometime before that. A 39-minute, 15-track tape has surfaced that features mostly Hunter compositions, recorded by Roadhog. Hunter himself sings lead on several of them. Six of the tracks were different versions of songs that turned up on Rum Runners, and a few more songs are now known from later Hunter albums or performances. A few tracks, like the song "Roadhog" itself, were unheard up until now.

Where do the Roadhog tapes fit in with Tales Of The Great Rum Runners? This, too, is mysterious, making my upcoming Rum Runners post even longer. Did the Roadhog project precede Rum Runners, and get superseded? Was it a parallel project, with the idea that Hunter would write the songs for Roadhog as well as the Dead? JGMF found an ad for Roadhog at the Inn Of The Beginning on September 27, 1974, where they are listed as playing "songs by Robert Hunter." All quite fascinating material for contemplation.

For the purposes of this post, however, it's simply worth noting that the Roadhog recordings have a demo tape feel. I wouldn't be surprised if the Roadhog tape was also shopped to record companies with no bites. In any case, Roadhog are thanked on the Rum Runners liner notes, which confirms that the band already existed prior to the record, so there must have been some parallel development, but that will have to wait for another post.

The cover to Robert Hunter's 1975 album on Round, Tiger Rose
Tiger Rose-Robert Hunter (Round Records RX-105, released March 1975)
I believe that Mickey Hart's Barn studio was intended as an important linchpin in the Round Records plan. In order for the members of the Grateful Dead to record the albums they wanted to make, their had to be an affordable, friendly studio. Local studios like The Record Plant, Wally Heider's and Columbia Studios were fine facilities, but they were expensive to use and heavily booked. The Barn had seemed like a perfect solution, but it's hard not to look at the recorded evidence and think that the sound quality of the recordings at The Barn were not up to 1974 standards.

At some point in 1974, Alembic Sound sold Alembic Studios to producer Elliott Mazer. Alembic was a sound company that was intimately connected to the Grateful Dead, though in fact a separate business entity. Alembic had purchased the old Pacific High Recorders studio at 60 Brady Street, where the band had recorded Workingman's Dead, and re-named it Alembic Studios. Alembic was generally only used for mixing, rather than recording. Jerry Garcia and The Grateful Dead mixed "Skull And Roses," Europe '72 at Alembic, and Garcia had re-mixed Anthem Of The Sun and Aoxomoxoa there, as well.

Alembic had decided to get out of the studio business, however, and focus on making instruments and other live performance equipment. Mazer would upgrade the studio's equipment and re-name it His Master's Wheels. Many albums were recorded at His Master's Wheels, including the Jerry Garcia Band portions of Reflections. As part of the upgrade, however, the old mixing board was sold off, and it ended up in The Barn. I don't know what the financial arrangements were--were old mixing boards desirable commodities in 1974?--but there's no question that the sound of albums recorded at The Barn improved after that. I'm sure other technical changes had been made as well, which would be way beyond me, but I like the synergy that the board used for Workingman's Dead became the platform for recording several projects on Round Records.

I suspect that Tiger Rose was the first project recorded on the old PHR board. I suspect that it was an implicit condition of Jerry Garcia acting as the producer and arranger for the album. Notwithstanding Garcia's fine musical contributions, the sound of Tiger Rose is far superior to the Barn-recorded albums that preceded it. It can't have been an accident.

The cover to the album Seastones, released in 1975 on Round Records, recorded by Ned Lagin and members of the Grateful Dead, including Phil Lesh, Jerry Garcia and Mickey Hart
Seastones-Ned Lagin and Phil Lesh (Round Records RX-106, released April 1975)
Keyboardist Ned Lagin had come out to California in 1973 work with Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh and others on a variety of electronic music projects. The "Seastones" performances with Phil Lesh and the accompanying album on Round were just a portion of what was recorded, much less what was intended. For record company reasons, a sticker on the album cover presented Seastones as a joint collaboration between Lagin and Lesh, and that was apparently a bit misleading, though not incorrect. The project was really Lagin's, but Lesh's name was attached to it to make it into a "solo album." Lagin did not object, by any means, but Garcia and Hart played big roles in the composition, development and recording of the album as well, and that has apparently been somewhat lost over time. A two cd set of Seastones is due sometime, and that should help lend some clarity to the scope and intentions of the project.

Seastones was not a typical recording project in any way, so it is all but fruitless to compare it to anything else. Nonetheless, The Barn seems to have been one of four recording studios for the work. Lagin had spent some time in California earlier in the 70s, and some recording on Seastones related projects had taken place at The Barn in 1971-72. The project re-started when Lagin returned to Califronia in 1973. In some personal correspondence, Lagin alluded to studio time being rushed and limited by record company finances, so that is one way I have been able to assume that projects recorded at The Barn were paid and paying work, not just larks. Of course, there were three other studios, one of them in Bob Weir's garage, so there may be some other nuances to this as well.

It's hard to compare Seastones to, say, a Hunter album, but I have to assume that Lagin aslo appreciated the upgrades associated with the PHR mixing board. Seastones was mixed in Quadrophonic, the hi-fi of it's time, ironically enough at His Masters Wheels.

The cover to the Round Records album Pistol Packin' Mama, by the Good Old Boys, recorded in 1975 and released in 1976
Pistol Packin' Mama-Good Old Boys (Round Records RX-109, released March 1976)
Jerry Garcia produced a bluegrass album for Round, featuring New Rider David Nelson and three genuine bluegrass legends: Frank Wakefield (mandolin), Don Reno (banjo) and Chubby Wise (fiddle). Limited evidence suggests that the album was actually recorded in about February 1975, even though it was not released until March 1976. I think the Grateful Dead's financial problems intervened, and there was not enough cash to release the album until the Grateful Dead had signed a distribution deal with United Artists Records at the end of 1975.

Pistol Packin' Mama is a beautiful sounding album, bluegrass like it should be recorded. With musicians as accomplished as The Good Old Boys, the key for the producer was simply to record the music as clearly as possible, and Garcia and engineer Dan Healy seem to have achieved that. I have to assume that the long lost Old And In The Way studio album did not sound nearly as good as Pistol Packin' Mama, and I have to think that a variety of technical upgrades must have made all the difference. Without knowing much about recording, I have to think that the mixing board from PHR was a big part of that.

The cover to the 1976 Round album Diga Rhythm Band
Diga Rhythm Band (Round Records RX-110, released April 1976)
Throughout much of 1975, Hart was apparently working on his Diga Rhythm Band project. The album was finally released in early 1976, but I do not think United Artists was very happy with it. When they agreed to distribute Grateful Dead and Round Records, UA must have been thinking about Garcia and Weir solo albums. They did get Reflections (RX 107) and Kingfish (RX 108), but UA can't have been happy about an electronic music album best heard in quadrophonic (Seastones), an album of cover tunes in a nearly forgotten country subgenre (Pistol Packin Mama) and finally a percussion album that you can't dance to (unless you are very, very limber). Hart apparently spent a lot of UA's money re-mixing Diga to get it just exactly perfect.

In June, 1976, the Grateful Dead returned to full-time touring, with Mickey Hart back on board. By the end of 1976, Grateful Dead and Round Records were no more. By the middle of 1977, "Le Club Front," which was initially the Jerry Garcia Band's rehearsal studio, had become the primary in-house recording venue for the Grateful Dead and its members. The Barn studio receded into the background. Once in a while, if Hart was not on tour, it seems to have been put to good use: a local Marin band featuring future JGB drummer Johnny De Foncesca recorded a demo there in 1978, and some Rhythm Devils sessions were held there in March, 1980.

In general, however, I have to assume that The Barn at Hart's ranch simply became Mickey Hart's home studio, available to put down ideas or record jams as the mood struck him. At some point the studio was dismantled, although I don't know the exact story. A fellow blogger interviewed Hart and Hart not only confirmed the fact that the PHR mixing board went to his studio, he commented on its own aftermath. Sometime in the 1980s, apparently, the mixing board was donated to a studio in Hunter's Point in San Francisco that was run as part of the San Francisco Public Schools. Somewhere out there, in the aether where there is a Kung Fu movie with a Mickey Hart soundtrack, there are some tapes by aspiring teenage rappers in San Francisco in the late 80s with a whiff of Workingman's Dead on them. As far as I know, the actual barn itself that housed the The Barn studio has since been dismantled.