Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Lost "Jerry Garcia Bands" 1968-92 (Dept. Of Might-Have-Been)

The David Nelson Band, which was formed in 1994, now includes Pete Sears on bass, due in no small part to some undisclosed plans of Jerry Garcia

Creative people are famous for their ideas, and that is as true of Jerry Garcia as any other artist. The Grateful Dead, Old And In The Way, "Dark Star," Round Records and many other famous and infamous Garcia endeavors were the end products of a fertile, creative mind. Yet we all know creative people, in every profession and avocation, and for every good idea that sees the light of day, there's several more that never got executed.

Jerry Garcia, a wealthy and successful 20th century rock star by any accounting, had numerous bands on the side, far more than any other peer from his era. For all his success, Garcia had the endless energy to play bars and smaller auditoriums with a variety of ensembles playing a wide variety of music. Remarkable as that was, that wasn't even the whole story. This post will look at some planned "Garcia Bands" that saw the light of day but never got off the starting line, with just an odd jam session or album track to show for it.

On March 11, 1968, the Grateful Dead opened for Cream in Sacramento. Jerry Garcia and Jack Casady were so impressed with the Cream that they considered forming their own power trio
"Power Trio" with Jack Casady (ca 1968)
Cream was the biggest thing to hit rock music in the Summer of '67, and they had only gotten better when they came back in March of 1968. Garcia saw Cream a number of times in August 1967 and March '68, and the Grateful Dead even opened for Cream on a Monday night in Sacramento (March 11 '68). The story goes that Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady chartered a Lear Jet so they could get to the Sacramento show.

Afterwards, it seems that Casady and Garcia talked about forming a power trio. There was no talk about leaving their bands, just some kind of side exercise. Casady, a phenomenal bass player by any standard, had a style far more appropriate for a power trio than Phil Lesh. Of course, there were no junior Ginger Bakers on the San Francisco scene, but the idea was out there. Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart appear to have been dually recruited to equal one Ginger. The story goes that Jerry and Jack asked Janis Joplin to front the band, and she said "do I have to look at your ugly mugs?" or words to that effect.

Of course, while Janis was a close friend, she was still relentlessly ambitious. She might have even been willing to form a band with Jerry and Jack, but not a side band. Janis would hang with her friends, but she wasn't going to put her energy into playing the Matrix on a Tuesday night. More's the pity. The one whiff of this ensemble seems to be a photo of Garcia and Casady jamming at Rancho Olampali on July 28, 1968 (I'm not certain who played drums). Somehow this idea morphed into Mickey And The Hartbeats, which had an intriguing but ultimately unsatisfying history. Still, it's a thought--do you think Jerry and Jack could have burned up "Down On Me?" Yeah, I think so.

Collaboration with David Crosby (ca early 1970s)
From their debut in 1969 and throughout the 1970s, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were one of the biggest groups in rock. So David Crosby hardly "needed" Jerry Garcia to help his career. Yet in the spring of 1970, when asked if he would like to work with Garcia, he said
"Man, I would. Now I think Jerry Garcia probably needs me like he needs a third eye. Excuse me, a fourth. He has a third. But I would be just so knocked-out to play, or sing, or do any kind of music with that dude...and he’s not the only one. What about Lesh?" 
As 1970 wore on, CSNY, the Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead and others recorded almost daily at Wally Heider's studio in San Francisco. These became known as the "PERRO" sessions (for Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra). Among the many recordings from that period were Garcia's initial solo album and David Crosby's If I Could Only Remember My Name, where Garcia and other Dead members played prominent roles. More or less uniquely amongst the PERRO crowd, Garcia and Crosby, along with Lesh and Kreutzmann, actually performed. They played three weeknights at The Matrix, probably December 14-16 (Monday thru Wednesday) and also at Pepperland in San Rafael on December 21, 1970. I have written about these shows at length, so I won't recap it all here, but within the context of the post some summarizing is still in order.

Based on the material played and Crosby's comments on the 'rehearsal' tape, the Matrix excursion seems like a Crosby project. It appears that Crosby wanted to play some of his new material live, and encouraged Garcia, Lesh and a drummer to back him. From that point of view, Garcia's participation is reminiscent of the New Riders--someone else's material, with Jerry as a sideman. However, unlike Garcia's tenure in the New Riders, he leads the band on a few songs clearly of his own choosing. I have no doubts that Crosby would have been amenable to whatever Garcia wanted to perform, and would have been more than willing to split vocals evenly with him if that had been what Garcia wanted. Whether or not Garcia saw the Matrix enterprise as a 'Crosby venture' or a 'joint venture,' Garcia would have been free to step up to the microphone to whatever extent he felt like it. Thanks to CSNY, music business orthodoxy was less fixated on the supposedly unbreakable partnership of a rock group and heading towards looser, temporary solo or duo arrangements.

Garcia and the Dead were always in a cash squeeze--what if Garcia, Crosby and Nash had decided to tour for a few dates? Crosby and Nash, as members of CSNY, were huge, and Garcia was at least a genuine rock star himself. If they had played some new material along with "Long Time Gone" and "Casey Jones," not to mention "Teach Your Children," it would have been very popular indeed. Do you think Crosby and Nash could have handled the harmonies on "Uncle John's Band?" Garcia could have made a ton of money playing a half-dozen dates with Crosby and Nash, and he would have made really good music besides. Certainly the record company would have loved it (Warner Brothers and Crosby and Nash's label, Atlantic, were linked corporately). Yet Garcia took the opposite tack of every other rock star in the 1970s, and kept his solo career separate.

Electric Band with Pete Sears and David Nelson (ca. 1988)
Pete Sears was an English musician who played bass and keyboards for a number of pretty obscure English bands in the lat 1960s (Google if you want to know--they were really obscure). By chance, he became friendly with Leigh Stephens, the former guitarist of San Francisco's infamous Blue Cheer. Stephens was living on a houseboat on the Thames River in London in 1969 to get away from the madness of Blue Cheer (surely you remember Stephens' album Red Weather? You don't?). Sears and Stephens became jamming partners, and when Leigh Stephens struck a deal with Tom Donahue of KSAN, Sears and Stephens formed Silver Metre. Silver Metre recorded one OK album and played some Fillmore West gigs, thanks to Donahue (there's even a live tape from July 10 1970), so Sears got a taste of the West Coast.

Another result of the Donahue connection was that Sears ended up in Stoneground--the Medicine Ball Caravan, with Bob and Betty and Alembic doing the sound, was in London, another long tangent-- and came back to San Francisco with the band. In the early 1970s, Sears had alternated between playing with West Coasters like John Cipollina (he was in Copperhead) and Kathi McDonald (he produced her Insane Asylum album) and doing session work in London with the likes of Long John Baldry and Rod Stewart (Sears played on Gasoline Alley,  Every Picture Tells A Story and Never A Dull Moment). Jefferson Starship had reformed in early 1974, but Peter Kaukonen (Jorma's brother) was not a fit in the band (although he was an excellent player), and Sears took his place in Jefferson Starship in mid-74. Sears finally left the Starship after a 13-year career with the band where they were phenomenally successful. In 1988, however, Sears was only playing in a few local Marin ensembles. Enter Jerry. Sears tells the story on the David Nelson Band website:
At one point Jerry Garcia suggested I get together with a good friend of his and form a band…his friend was David Nelson of the old "New Riders of the Purple Sage". I had just left "Jefferson Starship" after 13 years [around 1987]. At Jerry's urging, David came over to my house in Mill Valley and we spent a wonderful afternoon talking about music and the worlds problems. However we didn't get the band together…the time wasn't right.
This quote is pretty remarkable. Here it is 1988 or so, and Garcia is talking to Pete Sears and David Nelson about putting a band together. It's unclear from the syntax whether Garcia intended to be a "member" of that band. Around the middle of 1988, Garcia seemed to have lost interest in the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band. Neither Nelson nor Sandy Rothman had lost their interest, but Jerry had a way of simply moving on when he was done with things. However, it appears that Jerry had some other plans that we were not aware of at the time. My own assumption is that Garcia wanted to find something else for Nelson to do, something that maybe Garcia could drop in on from time to time. Sears, like Garcia, had been a successful rock star who would be fine with a part-time group. What would a band with Garcia, Sears and Nelson have looked like? By all means, please put your speculation in the Comments, but here's my line of thinking.

  • Since Garcia would not have been full-time--obviously--perhaps the idea was that Nelson and Sears would have a band, with Nelson as the lead singer, and Garcia would have just dropped in on occasion. Maybe Kahn would have still played bass when Jerry wasn't there, which would have made economic sense.
  • If Garcia had still wanted to have done an acoustic thing (which Sears could have handled), I think he would have been more likely to keep the JGAB together, not get a new group, so I think the Nelson/Sears pair was seen by Jerry as an electrical connection
  • Sears invited to Garcia to make a rare Golden Gate Park appearance on July 16, 1988, the afternoon before a Greek Theatre show, so the contact fits the 1988 time frame (Garcia sat in with Zero, and Sears was a member). So we know that Garcia and Sears were definitely in touch at the time
  • The other time Sears played with Garcia was on April 29, 1990, with Nick Gravenites (at the South Of Market Cultural Center in San Francisco). Although outside the time frame, Sears played piano, and that leads me to think Garcia liked Sears as a piano player. Remember, during this period Sears was playing piano with Hot Tuna as well.
  • Garcia did everything with John Kahn, so I'm assuming Kahn could have been in this new band, which also makes Sears a keyboard player. Sears can play anything--he's not a bad guitarist as far as I can tell, besides bass, organ and piano--but my assumption is that the lineup would be Garcia and Nelson-guitars and vocals, Sears-piano and keyboards, maybe Kahn on bass and then a drummer.
  • The 1988-era Jerry Garcia Band was pretty much an R&B ensemble, although obviously one with a unique Garcia twist. Melvin Seals' gospel influenced organ and the twin vocalists added some soul mojo to even the most hippiest Dylan and Hunter songs, much less Smokey Robinson covers.

All this leads me to think that the Garcia/Sears/Nelson band would have played American honky tonk music. In some ways, it might have found a sweet spot between the current David Nelson Band and the Nicky Hopkins configuration of the JGB. If or when Garcia showed up, it might have given him a chance to play some Chuck Berry and New Orleans numbers that had kind of fallen out of the Garcia Band rotation. Nelson as a guitarist and possibly singer suggests that some California country music was in order, too (since, of course, all they had to was "Act Naturally"). Maybe Nelson would have been the lead singer, with Garcia as a special guest. Can anyone think of a mutual friend who might have helped Nelson write some original material? Hmmm...

Your mileage may vary, but it makes sense to me. Garcia decides to let the JGAB fade away, and starts thinking about jamming out some honky tonk with Nelson and an Englishman who was actually reliable this time,  Now, maybe Garcia never intended to participate in the Sears/Nelson band, but I can't help but think that if Garcia had been the musical godfather of the band, he would have dropped in when he could. The key fact to me is that Garcia--always a busy man--found time to facilitate a meeting between two musician neighbors. A casual favor? Not in my book. Garcia didn't get to be a rock star by accident, and the Sears/Nelson meeting was no accident, even if we can only guess at Garcia's reasoning.

Still, it was not to be. However Garcia may have conceived of any role in a Nelson/Sears band, it got pre-empted by his ongoing partnership with David Grisman, who filled Garcia's need for a "third way" separate from the structured worlds of the Grateful Dead and the Jerry Garcia Band. And who was responsible for the return of David Grisman into the Garciaverse? Amusingly, it turns out to have been Pete Sears. In 1988, Sears had left Starship, and made the album Watchfire to publicize the human rights crisis in Central America. He invited the finest musicians in Marin County to join him. Since Sears had been busy touring, he did not know that Garcia and David Grisman had not spoken for over a dozen years, due to financial disputes relating to Round Records royalties for the Old And In The Way album. Thus, Sears invited both of them to the same session, and a rapprochement followed. Garcia found a daytime home at Grisman's garage studio, and he did not need a "third" band. Whether or not Garcia had intended a Nelson/Sears ensemble as a part-time endeavor for himself, the new partnership with Grisman superseded any other ideas. Sears joined Hot Tuna, and Nelson started tour with Zydeco artist Al Rapone.

Improvisational Trio with Rob Wasserman and Edie Brickell (ca. 1993)
The late, great bassist Rob Wasserman (1952-2016), a musical partner of Bob Weir's for many years--"the John Kahn of Bob Weir," for regular readers of this blog--had recorded an album of duets in 1988 (Duets on MCA Records), so he followed it up with an album of trios. The record was recorded over a few years. Each track was a specific trio. The songs "Zillionaire" and "American Popsicle" were recorded with Jerry Garcia and former New Bohemians singer Edie Brickell.

In the liner notes, Wasserman wrote: 
This was the first trio I recorded and I feel it set the tone for the entire record. I first met Edie when I picked her up at the San Francisco airport. My car door wouldn't open, so she proceeded to climb in through the window! - I liked her immediately. Later, when we jammed at Jerry's house, he and I were both astonished by her ability to spontaneously create a song at the very moment she was singing it. "Zillionaire" was the first song that we came up with that night. Jerry played a grand piano as we were writing the song so he decided to record with it as well - a very rare occurrence. Several hours of music were recorded during that session. In fact, we all agreed that someday, just for fun, we would perform as an all improv band - no set list, no material!
The rumor mill had the Wasserman/Edie/Jerry tour occurring around 1993. Edie Brickell dropped in at a Grateful Dead show at Madison Square Garden on September 20, 1993. Some versions of this story have Bruce Hornsby as part of the crew along with Edie and Wasserman, although it's hard to tell if this was really plausible or just wishful thinking. Nonetheless, the consistent story is that a tour was considered, but never occurred because Edie Brickell's husband, Paul Simon, objected. Edie had married Simon on May 30, 1992. The exact timing of the reputed tour is unclear.

Deadheads are full of theories about why Simon didn't want Edie to tour with Jerry. Was he jealous? Was he worried about the notorious bad scene around the Dead? We may never know. However, there's an easy way to get an idea of Simon's thinking. Just go into the other room and tell your Significant Other, "hey honey I'm going to go on tour with the Grateful Dead for a few weeks." The look your S.O. gives you? That's what Paul Simon looked like, and it's hard to blame him. Paul and Edie have three kids, and Edie still records and even performs once in a while, and Jerry doesn't, and I'll leave it at that.

[update] Scholar and Commenter DLeopold has even more information, including a band name:
But it does not appear to be Simon who pulled the plug on any touring, but rather Garcia's partner at the time, Manasha. In McNally (p. 601) he discusses her vetoing "one of Garcia's better and more fanciful music ideas, Garcia's Mystery All Star Darkness and Confusion Band, which would have taken him, Branford Marsalis, Bruce Hornsby, Rob Wasserman and Edie Brickell out on tour with no material, relying totally on improvisation, because she was convinced that Jerry had romantic as well musical eyes for Edie."
Still, Manasha was the same as any other S.O. when told "honey I'm going on tour."

Edie Brickell - vocals
Jerry Garcia - piano, electric guitar
Rob Wasserman - electric upright bass

American Popsicle;
Edie Brickell - vocals
Jerry Garcia - midi guitar
Rob Wasserman - electric upright bass

Jack Casady is still playing with Jorma, as he has been since New Year's Eve 1959, which is as it should be. Crosby has no band at all, except occasionally when Crosby, Stills or Young plays with him, depending on who has embittered whom most recently. Edie Brickell and Paul Simon still appear to be married and raising their family in the Northeast somewhere, and good for them.

Pete Sears has a final observation, He didn't form a band with David Nelson, but eventually some other guys did, and they were a really good band. Sears occasionally filled in for the keyboard player of the David Nelson Band (Mookie Siegel), and ultimately he was called in to sub for and later replace bassist Bill Laymon, who had some health issues. Now, to this day, 20-odd years on, Sears is the bass player for the David Nelson Band, along with various other ensembles. Sears reflects on the past:
Anyway, I often think about Jerry wanting David and I to get a band together back in the late 1980's, which didn't end up happening, and here we are playing together. David and I have a good laugh about it once in a while…we still miss him.
We have so much fun it's like Jerry's up there looking down with that wry smile of his, and saying, "See, I told you guys".
Thanks Jerry, you were right.