Saturday, November 28, 2020

Febraury 25, 1975 Berkeley or Fairfax--Good Old Boys (Stealth Jerry?)

The Tuesday February 25, 1975 San Francisco Examiner entertainment listings include "Country Rock Dance--The Good Old Boys and Soundhole, at Keystone Berkeley, 2119 University Ave 9pm"
Jerry Garcia is one of the most thoroughly researched popular musicians in the late 20th century. For the sheer volume of analysis, Garcia's career is like those of Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley or John Lennon. Fans, journalists and scholars have attempted to leave no stone unturned. And yet it is remarkable that 25 years after Garcia's passing, we can still find undiscovered landscapes. I am going to make a case here for a missing Jerry Garcia performance from 1975, possibly two. Not only was Garcia already a substantial rock star by this time, but the show or shows were listed in the press under a familiar band name, and yet no one seems to have noticed.

Garcia scholars now know that Jerry, Frank Wakefield and David Nelson played two shows at a club called Margarita's in Santa Cruz, on the weekend of February 20 and 21, 1975. We know this not only because a fellow blogger was an eyewitness who recalled the events clearly, but because a fine double-cd was released of the performances in 2019. At the end of January 1975, Garcia and Nelson had recorded the All-Star bluegrass album with Wakefield, fiddler Chubby Wise and banjo player Don Reno. The album Pistol Packin' Mama was not released until January 1976, and the band was called The Good Old Boys. Yet The Good Old Boys had played Margarita's in February of 1975, with Garcia playing banjo in place of Don Reno. Reno and Chubby Wise had left town, so Garcia had surely practiced his banjo to get ready to stand in.

Guess what? Three days later, on Tuesday, February 25, the listing in the day's San Francisco Examiner noted "Country Rock Dance: The Good Old Boys and Soundhole at Keystone Berkeley, 2119 University Avenue, 9pm." Garcia, per the golden source of Jerrybase, was known to have played Keystone Berkeley 242 times. I'm going to argue that Garcia didn't work up his banjo chops just for a weekend in Santa Cruz, and make the case for 243.

From the Feb 21-28 Berkeley Barb Scenedrome entertainment listings. For Tuesday, February 25, the Good Ol' Boys are listed at the Sleeping Lady Cafe
Once I discovered the Examiner listing, like any competent scholar I looked for corroboration, in this case in the relevant week of Entertainment Listings (aka Scenedrome) of the Berkeley Barb. Guess what? There was a listing for the Good Ol' Boys on that Tuesday, but at a tiny hippie hangout in Marin County. So that sure points to a Garcia plan to play with the Good Old Boys after the Santa Cruz weekend. Which place was it? I'm going to make the case that Garcia played both--Keystone Berkeley on Tuesday, February 25, and the Sleeping Lady in Fairfax on the day before (February 24) or after (February 26).

Let's review.

Drink Up And Go Home, an archival double cd on RockBeat Records, released in 2019. Featuring Jerry Garcia, Frank Wakefield and David Nelson, recorded in Santa Cruz, CA on February 20& 21, 1975

February 25, 1975 Keystone Berkeley, Berkeley, CA: Good Old Boys/Soundhole "Country Rock Dance" (Tuesday)
While the Keystone Berkeley was generally a thriving nightclub throughout the 1970s, as far as I can tell, it wasn't flying as high in 1975 as it had a few years earlier. The Keystone had a Fillmore West feel to it, a lot of people on their feet, a lot of blues, a lot of guitar solos. In retrospect, we look back and see Jerry Garcia, Elvin Bishop and John Lee Hooker, and it sounds pretty cool. And it surely was. But in 1975, it wasn't forward looking. Hippies weren't unhip yet, as that would happen when punk and New Wave arrived in Berkeley two years later, but they were a bit passe. Very few touring acts played Keystone Berkeley at this time, save for blues acts who had fewer venues than ever. The bands were mostly local, even though some of them (like Garcia or Bishop) were substantial locals with albums.

Still, Keystone Berkeley sold beer, lots and lots of beer, so it was a hangout as well as a destination. Keystone Berkeley was at Shattuck and University, right below the UC Berkeley Campus and right downtown. Plenty of students and former students lived within walking distance of Keystone, and enough of them would have been over 21. There were almost no music bars on Shattuck Avenue at the time, and frankly almost no bars either. So if you liked to spend a weeknight with a cold one and some loud guitar, Keystone Berkeley was about your only choice near campus. Most nights of the week save Tuesday, Keystone Berkeley was open, and mostly for $1.00 or no cover at all, with a local band playing. It was the Bay Area--often the local bands were pretty good. Sunday and Monday were for local bands for a $1.00, and Tuesdays and sometimes Wednesdays were dark unless there was something unique to book.

On Monday, February 24, Keystone Berkeley had booked Soundhole. Soundhole was Marin County band that had formed around 1973. In 1974, Soundhole had hired on as Van Morrison's backing band, so they had a certain status around the Bay Area, even if they had never made an album. Soundhole played rock with some jazz and soul edges, appropriately enough in the style of mid-70s Van Morrison. Soundhole never did make an album (you can find a Nov 26 '74 Winterland tape if you poke around Wolfgang's Vault), but most of the band members went on to bigger things. Guitarist Brian Marnell was in SVT, with Jack Casady, organist John Farey was in Zero, and saxophonist Johnny Colla, bassist Mario Cipollina and drummer Bill Gibson would go on to Huey Lewis and The News (tenor saxophonist Brian Hogan was the other member). Soundhole were good, the type of band who would be booked for $1.00 on a Monday night at Keystone Berkeley. University and Shattuck was just an hour from San Rafael, and what else would Soundhole have been doing? Have a little fun, maybe make some coin.

But here's what--Soundhole were Marin funky, like the Sons Of Champlin. They don't play country rock. So why does the Examiner listing say "Country Rock Dance?" Keep in mind, the Examiner was San Francisco's afternoon paper (the larger Chronicle was the morning paper). A club could get a listing added to the paper the day before, and possibly that same day if they called at the beginning of the day. Here's what I think--the Good Old Boys enjoyed their weekend gig in Santa Cruz. I think they decided to keep playing, so someone in the Dead office made some calls.

Soundhole was booked for Monday, February 24. On Wednesday, Keystone had a relatively big show with a touring band--the great Welsh band Man, with Deke Leonard--so that left Tuesday, usually a dark night. I think Freddie Herrera told Soundhole they should stick around, and booked Garcia and the Good Old Boys on the fly. Keystone staff would have called the Examiner on Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning, which was too late for the Tuesday Chronicle deadline.

We know that Garcia would have been sensitive to being advertised at a place like Keystone when he wasn't going to be playing electric guitar and covering Motown and Dylan songs, so I think he didn't want his name on the booking. But Keystone saying "country rock dance" even when the band was the funky Soundhole was code for Herrera letting people who had heard a rumor about Garcia think "this might be him..." I think they played. My guess is Good Old Boys played a set or two of bluegrass, and Soundhole plugged in and funked out until well after midnight.

The Reggae Rock band Tazmanian Devils played The Sleeping Lady in Fairfax some time in the late 70s or early 80s. Most flyers for bands at the Sleeping Lady don't even include the address, since all the locals knew the place, and Fairfax was tiny.

The Good Old Boys at The Sleeping Lady Cafe, Fairfax, CA
The Berkeley Barb for the week of February 21-28, 1975 has a listing for the Good Old Boys at the Sleeping Lady Cafe in Fairfax for Tuesday, February 25. This conflicts with the Keystone date. The deadline for the Barb would have been the week before (probably Tuesday February 18), so I'm confident that the Tuesday Examiner listing at the Keystone supersedes the Sleeping Lady. Still, I think the band played there, probably on Monday or Wednesday.

The Sleeping Lady Cafe was at 58 Bolinas Avenue in Fairfax, in Marin County. Fairfax is a tiny town, just 2.2 square miles, incorporated in 1931. It is 3 miles Northwest of San Rafael, and at the time had a population of about 7,500 (as it does now). As for the Sleeping Lady itself, it was the first vegetarian restaurant in Marin County, and the first restaurant in Marin to ban smoking indoors. So that made it a hippie hangout from its inception. It had singers and bands from the beginning, and the performers were local, as in "lived down the street" local. For a long time in the mid-70s, the Sleeping Lady hosted a band called the Fairfax Street Choir, a full rock band with a dozen singers. This quixotic enterprise had numerous Marin connections (e.g. Donna Jean Godchaux's future husband was the bass player, and so on), but was financially impossible. The Sleeping Lady was just a hangout for hippies who liked music.

It sounds to me like The Good Old Boys booked a gig there, and when Keystone Berkeley called, they bumped it. Makes sense. There is one extremely intriguing piece of evidence, however, that makes me think the Good Old Boys actually played the Sleeping Lady. Garcia scholars may know of Michelle McFee, a wonderful person with whom I have not been in touch with in a while (wherever you are, Michelle, I hope you are well). Michelle McFee, who lived in Kentfield, was among many other things the Office Manager for the New Riders of The Purple Sage, and as connected as one could be to the Marin County music scene. For many years, her on-line handle was "Pistol Packin' Mama" (and in other contexts, "MizShely"). So she identified with the Good Old Boys (and remember, she knew them all).

A google search of The Sleeping Lady and the Good Old Boys, rather surprisingly, turns up a stale website called Marin Nostalgia. Under the header, "Memories of The Sleeping Lady" what do we find? Well, well, Michelle---

Was a hideous ugly place in the 70s…small and somewhat scary, my fondest memory of the place was one night The Good Old Boys were playing and Peter Sheridan went to sitting in a chair and sat right on through it, thuddng on to the floor. In the immortal words of one of Bette Davis’ characters, “WHAT a dump…”  — Michelle McFee

Yes, it's possible that Michelle McFee was referring to seeing later versions of The Good Old Boys, without Garcia (most Wakefield ensembles since have been called "The Good Old Boys"). But since Michelle thought it was a scary dump, why would she go? The answer, to me, was that Garcia was playing. Remember, she worked for and with David Nelson at the time, so she would have known. 

So I think the Good Old Boys weekend in Santa Cruz went well, and they called Freddie Herrera, who offered them Tuesday. The boys told the Sleeping Lady that they would play a different day, probably Monday February 24, and they did. A few friends of the band, like Michelle McFee, dropped by, and some Bolinas locals dropped in.

Comments, Wayback Machine searches, and any rank speculation widely encouraged. For now, I'm going with this:
February 25, 1975 Keystone Berkeley, Berkeley, CA: Good Old Boys/Soundhole "Country Rock Dance" (Tuesday)
February 24 or 26, 1975 Sleeping Lady Cafe, Bolinas, CA: Good Old Boys (Monday or Wednesday)

 

 

Friday, November 13, 2020

Week of May 2, 1970 SUNY Binghamton, Binghamton, NY (The Whole Story)

The Binghamton Press and Sun Bulletin, Saturday April 18, 1970

The Grateful Dead's performance at SUNY Binghamton on May 2, 1970 is the stuff of legend, even for a band with a lengthy history of such events. Not only was the show seven hours of music, not only was it all broadcast on FM radio several weeks later and not only was it widely bootlegged and finally released as Dick's Picks Vol. 8. The show epitomized the expansion of the Grateful Dead from a cultish phenomenon in San Francisco and Manhattan to an extended community throughout the United States and beyond. I would argue that no show did more than Binghamton to expand the band's legend, since it was broadcast, circulated on bootleg lps, circulated on tape and then finally released, so Heads of every era absorbed it as their own.

Given how well most of us know the music, from the haunting acoustic "I Know You Rider" to Phil Lesh's awesome bass bombs that open the solos on "Dancing In The Street," it's hard not to have imagined yourself there. A college student in a city somewhat distant from big cities, probably a long, cold winter, typical of that part of New York State, and that it was followed by a spectacular Spring. What better way to celebrate Spring and the end of Winter Semester with an entire Saturday Evening With The Grateful Dead? What a night it would have been, were any of us lucky enough to be there.

And yet--Saturday night with the Grateful Dead wouldn't have been the whole story, indeed, it appears to have been about a quarter of it. Let's go back and try and piece together the rock and roll week of May 1, 1970 at SUNY  Binghamton.

An early 70s Grateful Dead bootleg lp recorded from the Binghamton show

The listing on page 25 of The Binghamton Press and Sun Bulletin from Saturday April 18, 1970, posted above has some interesting information about upcoming events at SUNY Binghamton:
Four leading pop groups are scheduled to perform at State University at Binghamton. The lineup:
May 1: Pentangle and Paul Butterfield Blues Band
May 2: Grateful Dead with Riders of The Purple Sage
May 5: Incredible String Band
May 8 or 9: James Taylor, country singer Sweet Baby James

What? Four rock shows at the College? In the same week? Now, it's hard to recall that State Universities cost about $50 a semester in those days, not a lot of money even then, and the schools provided all sorts of benefits. One of those benefits was an entertainment budget to bring acts to distant colleges, for no other reason than to make undergraduate life broader and better. So every college back then had a rock show each semester, and some of them had more than one. It made a good payday for touring bands, and rock audiences were largely college-age at the time. But four in a week? All with albums, not just local yokels, and indeed, three of them had played Woodstock the Summer before. The week of May 1 at SUNY Binghamton was booked like a week at Fillmore East.

Why didn't we hear about this? It seems we have far fewer eyewitnesses from Binghamton than I thought, because this week of rock shows seems like an all-timer. Indeed, the only eyewitness account I am  aware of the review from the student paper that appeared in Dick's Picks Volume 8.

Basket Of Light, the classic Pentangle album released in October 1969 (Warners)

An Hypothesis

I have a theory. I can't prove it, yet, it's just some logical deduction. If anyone out there has any information, recollections, flashbacks or irrational speculation, please include them in the Comments. There has to be a story. But here's my speculation.

Every College and University  in those days had an "Entertainment Budget," designed to bring cultural enrichment and fun to undergraduate (or graduate) lives. The budget paid for Dance Troupes, and jazz musicians, and helped support the Performing Arts in any number of ways. This was particularly true for campuses that were far from big cities, and even more so for places with dreary winters (UC Santa Barbara was a little different). If there was someone playing on campus, and it was Friday night and snowy, almost anything seemed interesting, and a lot of students discovered some Art that they might not have attended in the big city. 

Of course, although any Entertainment Budget was controlled by College administrators, there was always a student-led "Entertainment Committee" that decided on the acts coming to campus. They may not have had a interest in say, Dance Troupes, but when it came to music, the students had a lot to say, and a lot of sway. It was a famous trope of the 60s and 70s that a bunch of hippies would take over the Entertainment Committee and conspire to get Fillmore East bands to play. The Grateful Dead benefited from this effect many times--how do you think the Dead came to play a free concert at Vanderbilt University as late as 1972?

It doesn't take a genius to see that some students with hip tastes were the driving forces on the Entertainment Committee. Don't forget, the Grateful Dead, though legendary, were still very much underground, as were Pentangle and Incredible String Band. The Butterfield Blues Band were an established act, but James Taylor was brand new. Somebody knew something. Whatever you think of the Binghamton area--I was only there once, and it seemed nice--basic demography suggests that there would have been plenty of students from big cities, whether Syracuse, Manhattan, Brooklyn or elsewhere. It wasn't all a bunch of innocent countryside folk. They knew what they wanted.

All of the six acts listed, however, seem to have been connected to the same record company. While I don't think the record companies themselves were directly involved, it does suggest the same talent agent. Talent agents were the ones who booked tours, and while they worked with all record companies, some synergy was inevitable. I think some hippies took over the Entertainment Committee, and some sharp talent agent offered them a package of multiple shows, and the students took it all. It would have made more sense to spread out four shows throughout the semester, but somehow they all happened in a week. Someone made a proposal, the students persuaded the Administrators to say yes, and the talent agent must have hit the bid and booked the shows.

Imagine The Week
Let's set our Wayback Machine and think what kind of week a young music fan could have had that week.

Keep On Moving, the fifth album by the Butterfield Blues Band (Elektra Oct '69)

Friday, May 1, 1970: Paul Butterfield Blues Band/Pentangle

We don't know the venue, since we only have the newspaper listing, but I think it was the same gym that the Dead played (West Gym). The Paul Butterfield Blues were better known than the Grateful Dead, and would have qualified as a genuine headliner on either coast. If the gym was going to be set up for a rock concert, it would make sensed to do it two nights in a row.

Now, in fact, by 1970 the Butterfield Blues Band had already crested from their peak, since guitarists Mike Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop had both moved on some years earlier. Still, Butter was still an exceptional blues harpist, and they were a "name" band. The lineup was probably pretty close to the lineup that Buttterfield had used at Woodstock, which included Buzzy Feiten on lead guitar, Dave Sanborn leading the horn section on alto sax, and a tough rhythm section of Philip Wilson on drums and Rod Hicks on bass (Deadheads will note that Rod Hicks beat out one John Kahn for the bass slot). The Butterfield Blues Band's current album was their fifth lp on Elektra Records, Keep On Moving. It had been released in October 1969.

Pentangle opening for the Grateful Dead at Fillmore West, March 1, 1969 (photo by and courtesy of Michael Parrish)

Pentangle, however, were not only in their prime, but one of the great bands of the 60s. I know how dramatic that sounds, but go listen to them--if you like the Grateful Dead, you'll very likely love Pentangle. If my recommendation isn't enough, how about Jerry Garcia's?

Pentangle, who only existed in their original form from 1967 to '73, is mostly forgotten these days by all but their fervent fans--of whom there are quite a few--and in any case they are fairly or unfairly lumped together with English folk-rock bands like Fairport Convention or Steeleye Span. Much as I love the Fairports, Pentangle doesn't sound like them or anyone else. However, the band's relevance to the Grateful Dead is that they apparently dramatically influenced Jerry Garcia and the Dead's interest in performing acoustic music live. Pentangle had a unique lineup for the time, with two phenomenal acoustic guitarists and an amplified rhythm section, underlying the brilliant vocals of singer Jacqui McShee. Pentangle played disciplined arrangements and yet improvised freely, seamlessly merged numerous styles of music, performed brilliant originals and surprisingly arranged cover versions--does this sound like a band we like?--and did it all sitting down, with two acoustic guitarists. 

Pentangle had opened for the Grateful Dead at Fillmore West for four nights in February and March, 1969. The Dead were in the midst of recording Live/Dead, but somehow Garcia found time to watch some or all of eight sets by Pentangle. Many years later, in a 1985 interview (in Frets, an acoustic guitar magazine), Garcia said his inspiration for the acoustic Dead configuration in 1970 and 1980 was Pentangle: two acoustic guitars and a rhythm section. By 1970, Pentangle was even better than they were in 1969. Their current album was the fantastic Basket Of Light, released in the US on Warner Brothers Records in October 1969. They still had their classic lineup of Jacqui McShee on vocals, Bert Jansch and John Renbourn on guitars, Danny Thompson on upright bass and Terry Cox on drums. 

Another early 70s Grateful Dead bootleg from Binghamton. Side 2 was a (terrible) recording of the New Riders from that show, for many years the only evidence that they had played

Saturday, May 2, 1970 West Gym Grateful Dead/New Riders of The Purple Sage

The Dead and the Riders played Saturday night. The "acoustic Dead" opened, modeled on Pentangle, who had just played the night before. I wonder if any Dead fans noticed the similarity? The New Riders of the Purple Sage followed, and then two incredible sets of electric Grateful Dead, apparently going on well past 2am. I would note in passing that the newspaper listing above may be the first public note of the New Riders of The Purple Sage outside of the West Coast (yo).

The Grateful Dead would have been booked at Binghamton around March of 1970. At that time, their current album would have been Live/Dead, released by Warner Brothers in November 1969. It was a popular album, in a cultish sort of way, well-reviewed in Rolling Stone, but it wasn't exactly hit material. I don't even know if there was an FM rock station in the Binghamton area. I'll bet "St. Stephen" was getting played on WABC and WNEW in New York city, and some students were from there, but Live/Dead would have had to have been a hit in the dorms, rather than the radio, for anyone to have heard it.

Workingman's Dead would not be officially released until June 14, 1970, so much of the countrified material would have been a complete surprise to any Grateful Dead fans from the dorms. The Pacifica Radio broadcast of the Binghamton show did not happen until (as far as I know), June 21, which makes sense considering it would have been promoting Workingman's. The Dead pioneered live broadcasts as promotions, but it wasn't just luck. How many young hippies heard the Binghamton broadcast on KPFA or WBAI and went out and bought Workingman's Dead the next day?

I Looked Up, by The Incredible String Band, released April 1970 on Elektra

Tuesday, May 4 Incredible Sting Band

The Incredible String Band were another variation on "English Folk-Rock." They have not aged as well as Pentangle or Fairport, but in any case they were always sort of an acquired taste. The Incredibles stood out for borrowing from numerous world-wide folk traditions and stringed instruments, not being beholden to any kind of specific genre. Originally a trio, by 1970 they had released their sixth album on Elektra, I Looked Up.

Founders Mike Heron and Robin Williamson sang, wrote and played guitars and other instruments. They were supported on stage by their girlfriends, Licorice McKechnie and Rose Simpson (on vocals, bass and various instruments). Fairport drummer Dave Mattacks had played on the record, but I don't believe they toured with a drummer. Legendary producer Joe Boyd ("See Emily Play," Fairport Convention, Nick Drake, etc) had produced the album, as always.

Incredible Sting Band had played Woodstock, and they had a following, but they weren't a band that would have sounded good in a gym, nor sold that many tickets. I suspect they played in a theater on campus, hopefully one with good sound  (as a footnote, Tom Constanten would briefly join the Incredibles in early 1971, through his Scientology connection).

Sweet Baby James, by James Taylor, released in February 1970 on Warner Brothers Records

Friday, May 8 James Taylor

Huge as James Taylor would shortly become, I highly doubt he played the gym. He probably played the same theater where Incredible String Band had played. I don't know this for a fact, of course--it just seems reasonably likely (I did confirm from a newspaper search that Taylor played Friday, not Saturday).

James Taylor had released his debut album on Apple Records in 1968, to no acclaim. His effective debut was his second album, Sweet Baby James, released on Warner Brothers in February, 1970. After the hard rocking acid jams of Cream, Led Zeppelin and the like had dominated 60s music, James Taylor would usher in the 70s with his gentle and memorable songs, simply performed but deeply personal. Sweet Baby James would spawn a massive hit single, "Fire And Rain," which would peak at #3 on the Billboard charts in October 1971. These days, the title track is just as well known. But that was all in the future for the young James Taylor.

It's true that the kind of dorm hipster who wanted to see the Grateful Dead, Pentangle and Paul Butterfield might not be so excited about seeing James Taylor. Still, consider the fact that many of the students at SUNY Binghamton must have been from the New York Metro area. Let's face it--when James Taylor got huge by early '71, every one of those dorm groovers (I was definitely one, let's be clear) would have enjoyed saying "oh yeah, James Taylor, I saw him last year at a tiny hall in my school." 

Of the six bands booked here, the connecting tissue is that all of them were on either Warner Brothers or Elektra Records. Warners and Elektra were separate companies, but they shared distribution through a company called WEA (for Warner-Elektra-Atlantic). Since there were corporate ties between the companies, they probably shared a lot of other services, like promotion. That meant that any booking agents who worked with any of the bands found it easier to work with other bands in the corporate stable.

It's still surprising that some talent agent, or consortium of them (talent agents often worked together) got SUNY Binghamton to book four rock concerts in a week. There must have been some sort of deal--maybe WEA was running some kind of promotion. Still in all, epic as the Grateful Dead show in the West Gym must have been, it seems to have been part of an amazing musical week that was of Fillmore East quality, out in the friendly hinterlands. Here's to hoping we can find out more about this whole week.

Update: Esteemed scholar LightIntoAshes is all over it (and has been since 2012!). Here's the story

The reason for so many bands in one weekend was "Spring Weekend" at Harpur. The music schedule:
Friday May 1 -
Pentangle 8:00, men's gym
Paul Butterfield 10:30, women's gym
Sat May 2 -
Grateful Dead with light show 8:30, men's gym
Dance featuring the "Jam Factory" 11:30, women's gym

The April 17 Colonial News clarified the Spring Weekend schedule:
"Friday, May 1 at 8:15 pm, Pentangle will be featured in a concert in the men's gym. This will be followed by a dance-concert given by Paul Butterfield in the women's gym.
On Saturday, the Grateful Dead will perform at 8:30 pm in the men's gym. There will be none of the usual seating arrangement. At 11:30, the Jam Factory will play for a dance to be held in the women's gym.
Tickets for the above events will go on sale Saturday, April 25. Prices will be: Pentangle $1.00, Paul Butterfield $1.00, The Grateful Dead $1.50, Jam Factory $.50.
...Because the Grateful Dead concert will have no seats and Paul Butterfield is a dance concert, only Pentangle will have reserved seats."

The Incredible String Band played in the Women's Gym on Tuesday May 5. James Taylor also played the Women's Gym on Friday May 8. These shows were presented by the Convocations Committee. Tickets had gone on sale at the end of April, and they were unconnected to Spring Weekend. (Tickets were $1.00 each.)

On May 6, by the way, the university went on strike. While James Taylor played, there was a mass meeting going on in the Men's Gym. Classes ceased, and the student paper stopped printing the following week as the campus emptied. Needless to say there were no reviews of the final concerts.

I also added another article on the Spring Weekend schedule at Dead Sources. The newspaper itself seems surprised at how many bands were appearing that week. The student events group (called the Convocations Committee) was flush with cash: the committee told the paper it had met its budget even after spending $17,000 on all these bands, was "able to forego profit necessities," and was even thinking of putting on a concert every month.
As a result, Harpur students could go see six separate concerts that week at a total cost of $6.00. 

Here's to The Jam Factory, whoever they might have been--presumably a local band--starting their dance in the Women's Gym at 11:30 pm, while the Dead were still probably wailing through their first electric set, with hours to go.

Appendix
The Grateful Dead at SUNY Binghamton (from my post on the Grateful Dead in Upstate and Central New York, 1969-79)

May 2, 1970 West Gym, Harpur College, SUNY Binghamton, Binghamton, NY: Grateful Dead/New Riders Of The Purple Sage (Saturday)
The Grateful Dead had another paying college gig on Saturday, May 2, and this one was another legendary show. The band was playing at the State University of New York at Binghamton, in Binghamton, NY. Up until 1965, the school had been known as Harpur College, until it was absorbed by the SUNY system. The school currently has 17,000+ students. While it surely had fewer students in 1970, it wasn't tiny.

Binghamton, NY doesn't resonate with most people, but IBM got started nearby, and General Electric and Alcoa had big operations there. Binghamton is near the Pennsylvania border, at the confluence of the Susquehanna and Chenango Rivers. Binghamton had been a main stop on the Chenango Canal (now NY Highway 12). The Chenango Canal connected the Susquehanna River to the Erie Canal, which made the city into a manufacturing hub. The canal was replaced by the Erie Railroad (later the Erie Lackawanna, which was the parent of NJ Transit's Morristown Line), but the town retained its importance. GE, IBM and others continued to make the area economically prosperous from the 1950s through the 80s.

As we all know, what was remarkable about the Binghamton show was that the entire 7-hour extravaganza was recorded and broadcast on the Pacifica Radio network (including KPFA in Berkeley and WBAI in New York). Although the show was not simulcast, to my knowledge, but rather broadcast sometime in June (probably June 21), nonetheless much of the country got several hours of the real, live 1970 Grateful Dead. No wonder the show was bootlegged and taped so widely. From a Grateful Dead touring point of view, however, it was just another gig that paid, if a good one.

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, September 19, 2020

60s Rock History and GD Spinoff Bands (non-JG) Overview and Navigation

Kingfish rocking it at Alpine Meadows, near Lake Tahoe, CA August 31 1975 (l-r Hoddinott, Weir, Torbert, Chris Herold hidden)

Over time, I have made an effort to document many of the bands related to the Grateful Dead. In particular, I have tried to document the personnel and recording history of many such bands that did not feature Jerry Garcia. Garcia himself, and his numerous musical ventures, are well-covered over at Jerrybase. Ensembles that didn't feature Jerry Garcia, however, are rather harder to find out about. 

I have assembled all my posts about such groups here. In some cases, I have included posts that are not complete, so readers can see what is planned. Here and there, I have included some groups with Garcia, just because they are needed to clarify the arc of the different musicians. All of these posts are accessible on my main Navigation post, but this post is easier to navigate when trying to answer specific questions. Since I needed to build this for myself, I decided to share it.

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

60s Rock History Lists
I have a variety of Navigation posts, for Palo Alto, Berkeley and Rock Nightclubs. Some posts don't fit in any of them, however, so I have included any posts who don't fit into those trackers below.


Dave Torbert at Alpine Meadows Aug 31 1975

The Good News Performance History 1966

The Good News were from Redwood City, CA, and featured Dave Torbert and Chris Herold.

The New Delhi River Band opened for Them in August 1966, at Losers South in San Jose. Their name was often spelled differently on different posters (here it is New Dalie River Band)

New Delhi River Band Performane History Summer 1966 (David Nelson I)

Palo Alto's second psychedelic blues band, The New Delhi River Band, featured David Nelson, Dave Torbert and Chris Herold

New Delhi River Band Performance History Fall 1966 (David Nelson II)  

New Delhi River Band Performance History January-June 1967 (David Nelson III) 

New Delhi River Band Performance History July 1967-February 1968 (David Nelson IV)

David Nelson Musical Activities February 1969-May 1969 (David Nelson V)
After the demise of The New Delhi River Band, David Nelson lays fairly low
 
I have written numerous posts about the New Riders of The Purple Sage, and they are outside the scope of this Navigation post. In order to keep the Nelson/Torbert straight, some NRPS chronology is required, so I have included these posts (other NRPS posts can be found on the main Navigation post).

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

Riders Of The Purple Sage: Old, New and Resurrected (Who Was Bobby Ace?)
2019 archival releases for the New Riders tell us not only about the genesis and evolution of the band, but give us a glimpse of some other plans that may have been afoot.
 
New Riders Of The Purple Sage Tour History May 1969-April 1970 (NRPS Itinerary I)
Includes existing setlists from the Owsley Stanley Foundation, plus other supporting information.

Matthew Kelly and Bob Weir with Kingfish, August 31 '75 at Alpine Meadows

Shango, Horses and Matt Kelly 1968 (Matt Kelly I)

The backstory to Matt Kelly's links to the Grateful Dead start with his band Shango, with Torbert and Herold, back in 1968.

Gospel Oak/Mountain Current/33 1969-73 (Matt Kelly II)
The Matt Kelly story goes to England, the Santa Cruz Mountains and throughout the United States.
 
James And The Good Brothers: Overview and Performance Listings, 1970-71 (Next Riders I)
The Canadian trio of James Ackroyd and Bruce and Brian Good met the Grateful Dead on the Festival Express, and Jerry Garcia invited them to San Francisco. For about a year, the band was part of the extended Grateful Dead family. 
 
Bob Weir produced an album for guitarist David Rea, and it featured numerous members of the Grateful Dead family. This album triggered the reunion of childhood pals Matt Kelly and Bob Weir. Rea formed the band Slewfoot afterwards.

Lonesome Janet>Kingfish Performance History 1973-74 (Matt Kelly III, Kingfish 0) [in development]
Matt Kelly returns to the Santa Cruz Mountains with the predecessor to Kingfish, and then Dave Torbert joins up in early 1974

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

Heaven Help The Fool, Bob Weir's second solo album, released on Arista Records Jan '78

Formation of The Bob Weir Band Fall 1977 (Enter Brent)

Brent Mydland joined the Bob Weir Band, and then the Grateful Dead. But how did he even get there? No one has looked into it, so I did
 
 
An overview of the connections between the Bob Weir Band and Bobby And The Midnites
 
Kingfish with Bob Weir 1984-87 (Kingfish VI, Matt Kelly IX)
Weir began to re-appear regularly, though not permanently, with Kingfish in late 1984

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

Rock Band Performance Histories
Just because there isn't anywhere else to put them, here are some old Performance Histories for a few Grateful Dead contemporaries. I have linked to the last post in each series. In turn they will lead you to the full set.

Jefferson Airplane Performance List 1965-69 (9 Parts)

Moby Grape Performance List 1966-69 (6 Parts)

Steve Miller Band Performance List 1966-68 (4 Parts)

Sons Of Champlin Performance List 1966-70 (5 Parts)

Sanpaku Performance List 1968-69

Initial Shock Performance List 1967-69

Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen Performance List 1969: Berkeley Beginnings

Big Brother and The Holding Company 

Country Joe and The Fish 

Blue House Basement/Mt. Rushmore/Phoenix 

The Emerald Tablet, Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco June 25-July 16, 1967 

Eric Burdon 1969 

Eric Burdon and The Animals 1966-68

The Animals Summer US Tour 1966

Dantalian's Chariot 1967-68

Second Coming/Sky Blue/Eggs Over Easy/Grootna  

Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady Performance History, January-February 1969 (early Hot Tuna)

Formerly Fat Harry 

English Rock Bands at The Fillmore 1966-67

European Tours by West Coast Rock Bands, 1967-68 

Some Notes About Whitey Davis 

City And Venue Performance Lists
Here are posts on lists of performances for miscellaneous cities and venues in the 60s and 70s.

Fillmore West Lost Concerts: Tuesday Night Auditions 1968-69 (FW Auditions I)  

 Fillmore West Lost Concerts: Tuesday Night Auditions 1970-71 (FW Auditions II) 

1859 Geary Blvd, San Francisco: The Geary Temple 1966-68

Donovan's Reef, 2200 Great Highway, San Francisco February-March 1967

San Jose, CA: Outdoor Rock Festivals 1967-69 (An Overview)  

895 O'Farrell Street (at Polk), San Francisco, CA The Western Front  

Swing Auditorium, San Bernardino, CA: Major Rock Shows 1967-69 

The Bank, 19840 South Hamilton Avenue, Torrance, CA: 1968 Performance List (Updated)

The Crystal Ballroom, 1332 W. Burnside, Portland, OR Performance List January-June 1968 (Oregon III)  

Caffe Espresso, Portland, OR Rock Performance List 1966-1967 (Oregon IV) 

Oregon Rock Concerts 1967 (Oregon V) 

Oregon Rock Concerts 1968 (Oregon VI) 

6230 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood, CA The Kaleidoscope 1968 Performance List 

2201 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA The Electric Factory: Concert List February-June 1968 (Electric Factory I)

2201 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA The Electric Factory: Concert List July-December 1968 (Philadelphia II)  

2201 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA The Electric Factory: Concert List January-June 1969 (Philadelphia III) 

2201 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA The Electric Factory: Concert List July-December 1969 (Philadelphia IV) 

Thee Image and The Miami Rock Scene, March 1968-April 1969 

Kinetic Playground: 4812 N. Clark St, Chicago, IL Performance List 1968 (New! Improved!)

Late 60s Rock Concerts in Utah-- A Work In Progress 

The Dream Bowl, Vallejo, CA February-April 1969 (Solano & Napa County Rock History)

316 Congress Avenue, Austin, TX: Vulcan Gas Company Performance List 1969 (Austin III) 

4742 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA: The Rock Garden (1967)>The Ghetto Club (1967>1971) 

Mammoth Gardens, Denver, CO Performance List April-October 1970 

Pacific Northwest Poster Art

"Where Its At" TV show, Vancouver, BC late 1960s 

Roosevelt Stadium, Jersey City, NJ: Concert History 1972-74 (Stadium Rock I)
A look at the complete concert history of Roosevelt Stadium, the first stadium to have regular rock shows all summer.  

60s and 70s Rock Events
Posts on individual 60s and 70s rock events

Hwy 14, Middleton, WI The Bunny Hop April 25, 1966: The Sir Douglas Quintette  

1545 Market Street, San Francisco, CA: The Bachelors Live at The Carousel Ballroom, May 21, 1966

307 Church Street, Santa Cruz, CA Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium, May 28, 1966: Jefferson Airplane/Mystery Trend/Flowers Of Evil 

August 17, 1966 Fillmore Auditorium, San Francisco, CA: Jefferson Airplane (and a new PA)  

2850 19th Avenue, San Francisco, CA September 10, 1966 The Mothers/Oxford Circle

The Aliens, Whisky A Go Go, San Francisco October 14-27, 1966 

The Matrix, San Francisco October 29, 1966 Jefferson Airplane

January 13-14-15, 1967 San Francisco--Rock Weekend  

1 Casino Terrace, Newport, RI: Bambi's, January-February 1967  

505 Parnassus Avenue, Steiniger Auditorium, UC Medical Center Auditorium, San Francisco, CA March 4, 1967: Big Brother and The Holding Company/Steve Miller Blues Band/Robert Baker

Orpheum Theater, Madison, WI: Eric Burdon and The Animals, March 8, 1967   

Reedy Creek Park, Raleigh, NC-Raleigh Be-In, May 7, 1967

November 18-19, 1967, Cow Palace-Hollywood Bowl: Free Concerts 

700 M Street, Fresno, CA: Selland Arena, Big Brother And The Holding Company/Mint Tattoo April 19, 1968 

May 25, 1968 Santa Clara County Fairgrounds, San Jose, CA: McCarthy is Happening 

June 5, 1968 Fillmore East WBAI-fm Benefit with The Incredible String Band

July 20, 1968, Lagoon Patio Gardens, Farmington UT: Big Brother and The Holding Company/Blue Cheer  

November 21, 1968: Santana, Quicksilver Messenger Service – Los Altos High School Gym, Los Altos, CA 

January 10-11, 1969 TNT-Alpine Meadows: Santana Blues Band  

The Matrix, San Francisco, CA February 19, 1969 Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady/Weird Herald

Convocation Center, Ohio University, Athens, OH May 19, 1969 Junior Prom Jose Feliciano/Led Zeppelin  

Frost Amphitheater, Stanford University, October 5, 1969 Sanpaku 

415 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA December 29, 1969: Big Brother and The Holding Company/Youngbloods/Ramblin Jack Elliott/Penny Nichols 

York Farm, Poynette, WI April 24-26, 1970 Sound Storm: Grateful Dead/Illinois Speed Press/Mason Profitt/others 

November 2, 1972 Hofstra Playhouse, Hempstead, NY: ABC In Concert with Allman Brothers/Alice Cooper/others
ABC brings rock to the suburbs, and changes late night TV in the process. 8 bands are filmed at Hofstra U, broadcast over two 90-minute Friday nights.

Ontario Motor Speedway, Ontario, CA: April 6, 1974: Emerson Lake & Palmer/Deep Purple/The Eagles/Black Sabbath/others "California Jam"

includes
November 24, 1973 Ontario Motor Speedway, Ontario, CA: Guess Who/Three Dog Night/others "November Jam"
March 18, 1978 Ontario Motor Speedway, Ontario, CA: Aerosmith/Foreigner/Heart/others "Cal Jam II"

 

 

Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Grateful Dead at The Oakland Coliseum Arena and Stadium (1974-95)



Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Stadium, 7000 Coliseum Way, Oakland, CA 94621
now: O.co Coliseum
First Grateful Dead show: June 8, 1974
Last Grateful Dead show: May 27, 1989 (5 shows)
Also: Bob Weir and Kingfish (June 29, 1975, opening for Doobie Bros/Eagles), and Nelson Mandela (June 30 '90, Mickey Hart part of drum procession)

The Oakland Coliseum Stadium always shared a parking lot with the indoor basketball arena. It was part of the thrust for "multi-use" stadiums that were popular in the 1970s. As such, it housed both the Raiders (from 1966-81, then from 1995-2019) and the Oakland Athletics (since 1968). Amazingly, although the Raiders finally departed last year, it still houses the A's. Once, the Coliseum was a gleaming new cement palace that was superior to cold Candlestick across the bay. Now, it's a rundown cement block that pales before PacBell Park or Levi's Stadium. The strange return of the Raiders in 1995 caused new centerfield bleachers (known colloquially as "Mt Davis") to be constructed, ruining the pleasant view of the Oakland hills. Nonetheless, the stadium perseveres, even if its tenants perpetually threaten to move.

The Coliseum Stadium was the primary spot for most of the huge outdoor rock shows in the Bay Area in the 20th century, save for the Beatles appearance at Candlestick (August 29 1966), which preceded the stadium. The few subsequent Candlestick rock concerts were only held there, grudgingly, because the A's or Raiders had prior bookings at the Coliseum,

The Dead played five shows at the Stadium, all pretty legendary. They headlined over The Beach Boys on June 8, 1974, they were double-billed with The Who on October 9-10, 1976, they played with Bob Dylan on July 24, 1987 and they headlined over John Fogerty (who was backed by Jerry and Bob, among others) on May 27, 1989. It's kind of like the A's: the Coliseum itself isn't that memorable, but what happened there remains etched in your mind long after you have departed.

Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena, 7000 Coliseum Way, Oakland, CA 94621
replaced by: Oracle Arena (re-opened 1997), now the Oakland Arena (re-named 2019)
First Grateful Dead show: February 17, 1979
Last Grateful Dead show: February 26, 1995 (66 shows)
Also: Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir, Dec 4 '88 (Bridge Concert), Jerry Garcia Band Oct 31 '92

Ask a veteran Deadhead, perhaps yourself: what building did the Grateful Dead play the most? Go ahead, look it up on Deadlists. The Fillmore East (43 shows)? The original Fillmore Auditorium (51)? Madison Square Garden (52)? The Philadelphia Spectrum (53)? Winterland (60)? 1545 Market Street, the location of both the Carousel Ballroom (16) and Fillmore West (46--total=62)?

What building did the Grateful Dead play most often? The answer turns out to be the mostly unloved Oakland Coliseum Arena, which the Grateful Dead played 66 times between 1979 and 1995. The Coliseum complex, with the indoor arena and the outdoor stadium, was built in 1966 to house the Oakland Raiders and tempt the (at the time) San Francisco Warriors and Kansas City Athletics. It did just that. No one really loved the Coliseum, but it had and has a spectacularly central location, right off Highway 880. It had its own BART stop, it was near the Airport, you could get there easily from every Bay Area county, but it was just sort of--there.

As a result, the 15,000+-capacity Coliseum Arena was the prime spot for top rock acts in the Bay Area from the late 60s through the 90s. Initially, the Arena was too big for rock acts, but when bands like Cream, Blind Faith and the Rolling Stones had their most famous tours, the Coliseum was not only the biggest venue, but also the best located. Thus the roster of bands that have played the Coliseum Arena is like a Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction list. Even when Shoreline Amphitheatre came along in 1986 and superseded the Coliseum as the flagship Bay Area venue, the Coliseum still handled all the Fall and Winter shows, so everybody still played the venue regularly.

Most long-tenured Deadheads, myself included, have seen some Dead shows at the Arena. Some of them were pretty good, too. But they don't have the sense of place that the Oakland Auditorium had. Maybe it was the size, or the nondescript architecture of the building. Maybe it was just because I went to the Coliseum so many times, and have so many great memories, that the Dead are just one of many (Back in the early 80s, I saw 6'4 Adrian Dantley of the Utah Jazz drop 46 on the Warriors one night, mostly from the paint, and it was a thing to behold. Come to think of it, I saw Swen Nater do the same--don't get me started on Joe Barry Carroll's defense...Which just shows you that I don't even think of the Dead first at the Coliseum). There were actually a number of social connections between the Grateful Dead and the popular but usually underperforming Golden State Warriors. The most famous of these was the Dead's contributions to the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic Team (captured in the movie The Other Dream Team).

After the 1996-97 NBA season, the Coliseum Arena was fully remodeled into a much larger configuration, and now can seat just over 20,000 for basketball. It spent a decade as the Oracle Arena,  the home of the unexpectedly mighty Golden State Warriors. The Warriors, too, have now moved on, leaving just the A's. The answer hasn't changed, though--the building the Grateful Dead played the most was the Oakland Coliseum Arena.



Saturday, July 18, 2020

Merl Saunders: Late 60s Highlights (Stairway To Jerry)

Soul Grooving, by the Merl Saunders Trio and Big Band, released on Galaxy Records in 1968

Merl Saunders (1934-2008) is now well-known for his famous association with Jerry Garcia, playing with Garcia and other members of the Dead in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Once Saunders became part of the extended Garciaverse, Deadheads kept track of his musical doings. But Merl Saunders had an extensive career prior to Garcia. He would occasionally allude to it, but most interviewers wanted to turn the story back to Jerry, so all we got were bits and pieces. I am trying to put together Merl Saunders' pre-Jerry arc here, so we can see the components of Saunders music before the inflection point.

Merl Saunders, born Merl Washington, was San Francisco born and raised. I don't know exactly where he lived, but I'm pretty sure it was in the Haight-Ashbury or the Western Addition (which included the Fillmore district). Saunders went to San Francisco Polytechnic High ("Poly"), which was at 710 Frederick Street, just across from Kezar Stadium. All we really know is that Saunders had a band in high school, because he was the first one to offer singer Johnny Mathis a gig (Mathis went to Washington High, but I think they knew each other from sports). [update: Fellow scholar and regular Commenter Bill sends over an interview he did with Merl on KZFR-fm in Chico in 1999: Merl's high school band in the late 40s was called the Educated Men Of Music. It included singers Jean Turner (later with Stan Kenton) and Mathis, plus flute player Freddie Gene Smith (later with Smokey Robinson].[update II: fellow scholar JGMF reports that Mathis lived a few blocks from the Saunders family in the Haight-Ashbury].

Saunders was in the US Air Force from 1953 to 1957. Since getting drafted was all but inevitable, a four-year hitch often let the recruit choose his specialization, instead of just being a grunt. Since the US had a true citizen army in the 50s, I wouldn't be surprised if Merl spent much of his Army time playing music (certainly Mickey Hart did that in the US Air Force)[update: the KZFR interview confirms that Merl mainly played music in the Service]. After the Air Force, Saunders seems to have become a musical professional. I know that Saunders was a postman in San Francisco at some point, perhaps the early 60s, but many aspiring musicians (ok, well, not Jerry Garcia) take regular day jobs when they have to.

Since Saunders was an organ player, he most likely played more extended gigs at various places, rather than one-nighters. It's hard to lug a Hammond organ around, and it makes more sense to leave it in one place for a week or more. Organ trios were a distinctly African-American musical style from the late 50s onwards, based on the style of the great Jimmy Smith [update: the KZFR interview confirms that Merl toured organ lounges coast-to-coast on the "Chitlin Circuit." He hung out and played a little with Jimmy Smith as well].

There was a circuit of those kinds of clubs around the Bay Area back then, like Jack's (at 1601 Fillmore, across from the Fillmore Auditorium) or Minnie's-Can-Do Club (at 1915 Fillmore) in the Fillmore. Jack's, originally Jack's Tavern, and later Jack's On Sutter (it was at 1931 Sutter), had been one of the first and most important jazz clubs in the Fillmore district back in the 1940s. One of the house bands at Jack's was led by Saunders King, whose presence was so powerful that young Merl Washington changed his stage name to Merl Saunders. It had to be a kick for Merl to play Jack's himself, even if the club had moved to the new location at Fillmore Street (which is now The Boom Boom Room).



An article in the October 18, 1967 Oakland Tribune notes a performance by Merl Saunders at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco
In the October 18, 1967 Oakland Tribune, jazz critic Russ Wilson gave a good review of the Merl Saunders Trio's appearance at San Francisco's Jazz Workshop. The trio included Jimmy Daniels on guitar and drummer Eddie Moore. Moore was Merl Saunders' first cousin. From the description, it sounds like the trio was a quality band, but pretty much in the typical groove of organ trios of the time, jazzing up popular songs.

Wilson mentions some of the bookings for the Saunders Trio, including The Trident in Sausalito, Harvey's Wagon Wheel in Lake Tahoe, Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas and a gig in Chicago. So Saunders was definitely getting around by this time.

Russ Wilson reviewed the Merl Saunders Trio appearance at The Trident in the May 24, 1968 Oakland Tribune. Saunders was filling in for Vince Guaraldi

May 21-June 9, 1968 The Trident, Sausalito, CA: Merl Saunders Trio
Sausalito was once a fishing village on the opposite side of the bay from San Francisco. Ultimately it became a Ferry terminus to the North Pacific Coast Railroad. However, when the Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937, Sausalito's waterfront declined rapidly. Sausalito had always had a colorful history, with bootleggers, rum runners and bordellos, and that aspect of the community was ascendant for some years. By the 1960s, however, the seedy history of Sausalito had made it a desirable bohemian enclave.

The Trident was owned by one Frank Werber, who had made a fair amount of money as the producer of The Kingston Trio. Under his Trident Productions banner, he produced a variety of other acts as well. In the mid-60s, he dipped his toes in the folk-rock waters, signing and producing Bay Area acts like Blackburn & Snow and The Sons Of Champlin.  In 1966, Werber and the Kingston Trio opened up The Trident Restaurant on the water (at 558 Bridgewater), which also regularly featured jazz. It instantly became the in place for upscale downsiders and downscalers with an upside.

In 1967 Frank Werber gave up the record business, a rare man who took his money out of the biz before he lost it. He kept The Trident, however. As the San Francisco bohemian underground became rock and roll royalty, The Trident was a main hangout for record company people, Bill Graham, rock stars, film stars and other cool people. The Trident was famous for having spectacularly beautiful waitresses, all reputedly braless. The Trident also booked jazz five or six nights a week, an interesting paradox in a club that celebrated the rock and roll life. Nonetheless, the quality of jazz performers at The Trident was uniformly high, whether local performers or recruited from out of town.

According to Russ Wilson's review in the Oakland Tribune, the Merl Saunders Trio was engaged when, per Wilson, "oddly enough... pianist Vince Guaraldi sprained a finger Saturday night getting off an airplane, and notified the club he couldn't keep his booking for the following Tuesday, according to club manager Lou Ganapoler" (Vince Guaraldi scholars take note). The peculiar tone of Wilson's explanation suggests that there was more to Guaraldi's sprained finger than he is saying, but no matter: Merl and his trio were on board. Apparently Saunders had filled in for a few days the previous year (1967) when another headliner had been unable to make it, so they weren't a complete unknown to The Trident.

Wilson names a few songs that the Saunders trio played, such as "Up, Up And Away," "You Better Love Me," "Little Bird" and "Sometimes I'm Happy." Wilson praises Saunders as "an organist who knows his stops as well as his keyboards, and who builds on this foundation with musicality, taste and a strong ability to swing..."[Saunders] perceptive use of these basics often makes his output superior to that of widely known jazz organists." The critic does add that "there are times when Saunders and his cohorts fall into a dismal swamp, as they did with the current pop tune "Up, Up And Away." These two points fairly sum up Saunders ability as a keyboard player: he is versatile, sticks to the basic and knows how to swing, while sometimes falling into unneeded noodling.

It is interesting also to read Wilson's comments about guitarist Jimmy Daniels. He says "on appropriate numbers he utilizes a blues vibrato that gets into the nitty-gritty and on ballads he plays with a full melodic sound that enhances the tune." A few years later, Saunders would play with another guitarist who would utilize even more blues vibrato and play with a full melodic sound, as well.  It is interesting to see that Merl Saunders's sound was well established prior to playing with Jerry Garcia and John Kahn in 1970.


From Russ Wilson's July 28, 1968 column in the Oakland Tribune

This brief listing in Russ Wilson's Jazz column in the Oakland Tribune of July 28, 1968, gives an insight into Saunders true breadth, and serves as a reminder to one of the forgotten markets of sixties music. The notice says

Organist Merl Saunders' trio is on a Far Eastern tour that has included Bangkok, Manila and Tokyo, where the group now is playing club and TV engagements.
While I would love to know more about this tour, it's a reminder that up to 500,000 American soldiers were in Vietnam, which meant that at any given time a lot of soldiers were in Manila, Bangkok and Tokyo. The perennial presence of American soldiers had in turn given Asian nations a taste of American music,  too, so there were many opportunities to tour Asia. Many groups toured Vietnam, too, under some quite weird conditions (for example, rock bands were always told not to play The Animals song "We've Gotta Get Out Of This Place").

Merl Saunders was interviewed many times, but of course almost all those interviews were Jerry, Jerry, Jerry, so I don't recall ever hearing about a Far Eastern tour. Whether Merl's trio played venues that attracted servicemen, locals or both, it had to be an odd experience to play American music in Asia at the height of the Cold War. Saunders himself was a veteran, so that too may have added a different perspective. It certainly puts playing the Keystone Berkeley for a bunch of hippies in a different light.


An ad for Meile Saunders Trio (sic) at the EXIT in Palo Alto, from the January 24, 1969 Stanford Daily

January 24-25, 1969 the Exit, Palo Alto, CA: Smoke/Merle Saunders Trio
By 1969, Palo Alto actually had a groovy little rock scene downtown. But it wasn't much of a jazz town. In the January 24, 1969 Stanford Daily there is an ad for an apparently new club called the EXIT. There had been a juke joint over the county line in East Palo Alto called The Exit Inn, but I don't know if they played organ music. In any case, Exit is a typical sort of hipster club name, and may have had no connection to the East Palo Alto place. 3489 El Camino Real was way south of downtown, not far from a lengthy strip of motels. So there would have been plenty of potential patrons, but it wasn't any part of the downtown bohemian scene that had been pioneered by young folkies like Jerry Garcia.

Although I don't know when Merl's Soul Grooving album had been released, it was sometime in 1968. In 1968, just having an album, even if no one had really heard it, was an important credential for a working jazz musician. Galaxy Records was a subsidiary of Fantasy Records, apparently created for musicians who were in the union. In the 60s, Fantasy Studios were in Oakland, on 30th Street and Peralta, near the Emeryville border. Creedence Clearwater recorded their early, famous albums there, and Merl became friends with the band. Thus when Tom Fogerty left Creedence in late 1970, he was already friendly with Merl, so it was a natural fit to join Jerry Garcia, Merl and John Kahn in their casual pickup band.

The cover of Soul Grooving is also the only photo I have seen of Merl prior to meeting Jerry. Merl has said he went from being a snappy looking dude in a suit to a casual guy with a beard and tennis shoes, just one of the many ways that Garcia influenced Saunders.


The Playbill for "Big Time Buck White," starring Muhammad Ali, with Merl Saunders as musical director. The show lasted a week.
November 15-December 6, 1969 George Abbott Theater, 152 W. 54th St, New York, NY
"Big Time Buck White"
First Preview: November 15, 1969 (16 preview performances)
Performances: December 2-6, 1969 (5 performances)
"Big Time Buck White" was a musical about a black labor organizer. Based on a play by Joseph Dolan Tuotti, it had been adapted as a musical by Oscar Brown, Jr. Although I don't know the exact origins of the show, Brown had starred in a San Francisco production for quite some time, at The Commitee Theater on 836 Montgomery, starting about February, 1969. At some point, Merl Saunders had become the musical director of the San Francisco production[update: JGMF sent over some remarkably detailed information, and Saunders seems to have been the musical director of the SF production from its beginning in February '69].

When the production moved to "Off-Broadway" in New York, however, it had a new star: none other than Muhammad Ali. Ali was banned from boxing at the time, so he tried his hands at, of all things, musical theater. Per the New York Times review, Ali had a real stage presence, and wasn't a bad singer.

The musicians roster from the 1969 Playbill for "Big Time Buck White." Merl Saunders played organ and piano and led the 10-piece band. Billy Cobham was the drummer.
I don't know whether Merl Saunders had played New York before, but what a way to debut. Saunders led a 10-piece band. The most memorable name was none other than Billy Cobham on drums.

Nonetheless, the show closed quickly, after just a week. Sometime shortly after that, Merl Saunders opened for Miles Davis for a week or two at a Manhattan jazz club--I think the Village Vanguard. Most likely, it was the same band from the show. Since "Buck White" closed quickly, and the band was in New York anyway, it made sense for them to play a club. When they were rehearsing one afternoon, Miles came by and listened, and apparently briefly sat in, a benediction for any musician

There isn't a Miles Davis concert history online, surprisingly, but I know Miles was touring in Europe in November and recording in Manhattan in December, so the timeline fits.

The debut album by Danny Cox, released in 1971 on ABC/Dunhill Records, produced by Nick Gravenites. Musicians on the album include Merl Saunders, John Kahn, Bill Vitt, Chepito Areas and the Tower Of Power horns.

By 1970, Merl Saunders was back in San Francisco. He was writing and recording "jingles for cigarette commercials" (his description) and playing some organ gigs around town. Thanks to the Fillmore rock explosion, however, San Francisco had a thriving recording studio team. Record companies were not only signing the local bands, they were sending in players from out of town to catch some of the vibe. One of the new producers was Nick Gravenites, songwriter, former lead singer of the Electric Flag and general all-around character. ABC/Dunhill Records hired Gravenites to produce the debut album for Kansas City-based folksinger Danny Cox, and booked Wally Heider Studios.

In those days, producers often recorded a "demo" version of the album first, with just basic tracks, so the record company could see what they were getting. Gravenites had hired John Kahn to play bass, whom he knew well from working with Mike Bloomfield. Merl Saunders was hired to play organ. I think Kahn knew Merl from seeing him at places like Jack's. In any case, Gravenites probably knew Merl as well. Bill Vitt, another Gravenites regular, was on drums, and future Stonegrounder Tim Barnes was on lead guitar.

Kahn had a casual weeknight gig at The Matrix, playing bass with Vitt, organist Howard Wales and Jerry Garcia. Garcia was around Wally Heider Studios a lot in those days, working on albums with Paul Kantner and others. So that was how Garcia and Merl Saunders met, in the hallway at Wally Heider, while Merl and John were working on the Danny Cox album. When Howard Wales decided he didn't always want to show up to Matrix gigs, Kahn suggested calling Merl, and Jerry assented. And so it began.