Friday, July 23, 2021

August 26, 1969 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: The Great SF Light Show Jam (Vintage Dead: Found and Lost)

 

Ralph Gleason's Chronicle column from Monday August 25, 1969

August 26, 1969 Family Dog on The Great Highway, San Francisco, CA: The Great SF Light Show Jam (Tuesday)
The paragraph from Ralph J. Gleason's column in the August 25, 1969 San Francisco Chronicle (above) says

Tomorrow night at the Family Dog on The Great Highway there will be a lightshow spectacular--The Great SF Light Show Jam--with 13 different light shows and taped music from three years of unissued tapes from the Matrix including tapes of Big Brother, Steve Miller, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Quicksilver Messenger Service.

At the beginning of August 1969, many of the Light Shows in the Bay Area rock fraternity had joined together as the "Light Artists Guild" and tried to strike rock venues by picketing and withholding their services. The sole real attempt was Friday, August 1 at the Family Dog, for a Grateful Dead concert. Jerry Garcia purposely showed up late, the Dead did not play, and the "Guild" folded. Bill Graham, meanwhile,  had simply laughed them off, threatening to do without light shows. Graham was ultimately correct, as Light Shows were no longer an important part of the attraction of rock concerts.

Light Show operators saw themselves as Artists, however, and fairly enough. This Tuesday night show at the Family Dog attempted to make Light Shows an attraction in themselves. Bill Ham had tried this at a San Francisco place called The Audium, but that hadn't really worked. The Family Dog effort would fail, too, after one more try in September. I don't actually know of an eyewitness to either event. This blog has a different interest, however.

I had seen the Great SF Light Show Jam listed on various obscure flyers and thought little about it, since Light Shows are inherently of the moment. The idea that the Light Shows were performing to years of unissued live shows recorded at the Matrix--well, that's something else entirely. In the previous week's Berkeley Tribe, in an article about The Common and the Family Dog, there was some explanation:

Next Tuesday night Howard Wolfe [sic] will be playing tapes of some of the classic San Francisco rock concerts of the past few years. Wolfe, who worked with the Family Dog for two and a half years, wants to get together a musical and pictorial history of what went down in San Francisco. Nobody is better qualified to do it, he feels, than the people who created it in the first place.

Howard Wolf, based mostly in Los Angeles, had been the Avalon's booking agent in the 60s, as well as the booking agent for the Kaleidoscope. Wolf still had some involvement with the Family Dog on the Great Highway, although I'm not sure exactly what. However, with a little sleuthing, I'm pretty confident I've figured out what tapes Wolf was playing. For Deadheads, it's pretty interesting, with the caveat that the tapes were likely destroyed later and have never been heard since.

The Family Dog on The Great Highway, at 660 Great Highway, ca. 1969

The Family Dog on The Great Highway, 660 Great Highway, San Francisco, CA
The Family Dog was a foundation stone in the rise of San Francisco rock, and it was in operation in various forms from Fall 1965 through the Summer of 1970. For sound historical reasons, most of the focus on the Family Dog has been on the original 4-person collective who organized the first San Francisco Dance Concerts in late 1965, and on their successor Chet Helms. Helms took over the Family Dog in early 1966, and after a brief partnership with Bill Graham at the Fillmore, promoted memorable concerts at the Avalon Ballroom from Spring 1966 through December 1968. The posters, music and foggy memories of the Avalon are what made the Family Dog a legendary 60s rock icon.

In the Summer of 1969, however, with San Francisco as one of the fulcrums of the rock music explosion, Chet Helms opened another venue. The Family Dog on The Great Highway, at 660 Great Highway, on the Western edge of San Francisco, was only open for 14 months and was not a success.



One of the only photos of the interior of the Family Dog on The Great Highway (from a Stephen Gaskin "Monday Night Class" ca. October 1969)

The Family Dog On The Great Highway

The Great Highway was a four-lane road that ran along the Western edge of San Francisco, right next to Ocean Beach. Downtown San Francisco faced the Bay, but beyond Golden Gate Park was the Pacific Ocean. The aptly named Ocean Beach is dramatic and beautiful, but it is mostly windy and foggy. Much of the West Coast of San Francisco is not even a beach, but rocky cliffs. There are no roads in San Francisco anywhere West of the Great Highway, so "660 Great Highway" was ample for directions (for reference, it is near the intersection of Balboa Street and 48th Avenue). The tag-line "Edge Of The Western World" was not an exaggeration, at least in North American terms.

The Family Dog on The Great Highway was smaller than the Bill Graham's old Fillmore Auditorium. It could hold up to 1500, but the official capacity was probably closer to 1000. Unlike the comparatively centrally located Fillmore West, the FDGH was far from downtown, far from the Peninsula suburbs, and not particularly easy to get to from the freeway. For East Bay or Marin residents, the Great Highway was a formidable trip. The little ballroom was very appealing, but if you didn't live way out in the Avenues, you had to drive. As a result, FDGH didn't get a huge number of casual drop-ins, and that didn't help its fortunes. Most of the locals referred to the venue as "Playland."

 


Old Deadheads are familiar with Vintage Dead, a 1970 Grateful Dead album on MGM/Sunflower. The album featured Dead tapes recorded at the Avalon Ballroom in 1966, with a vintage Avalon poster (from September 16-17, 1966) on the cover. Vintage Dead was raw, but back in the pre-cassette days it was literally the only window into the lost Grateful Dead world prior to the first album, the only hint of what the original Grateful Dead sounded like. But how had early Dead ended up on MGM Records 4 years later? Ben Fong-Torres explained the story in the October 28, 1971 Rolling Stone (reproduced at the wonderful Deadsources site):

NOT-SO-GOOD OLD DEAD RECORDS
SAN FRANCISCO - All Bob Cohen knows is that he didn't mean for it to happen, and he wishes the Grateful Dead wouldn't give him such weird looks whenever he's around them.

Cohen is a sound man, and he was half-owner, with Chet Helms, of the Family Dog, back in the days of the Avalon Ballroom. As such, Cohen made, saved, and owns a pile of tapes of most of the bands that played there - the Grateful Dead among them. 

And when Cohen was approached, in spring of 1969, by a Los Angeles record company to sell some of his tapes for an anthology of circa-hippie San Francisco bands, he could see no problem. It was Howard Wolf doing the talking, and Wolf's immediate past included the two Great Society albums Columbia had issued. And he was representing Together Records, a frisky new label headed by Gary Usher, former producer of the Byrds and Firesign Theatre, among others. In fact, the Dead saw no problems either when they were asked to sign releases for nine cuts. "We didn't dig the tapes, the quality that much," said Rock Scully, "but we thought it'd be nice to have this anthology of all the bands." With the Dead set, all Together had to do was get releases from enough of the other groups, like Big Brother, Moby Grape, Steve Miller, Quicksilver, Great Society, and Daily Flash. The idea was a three-LP package.

 But, Cohen said, "they had trouble getting those releases." Then, "all of a sudden I find out that in one day Together ceased to exist! To settle everything, Gary Usher should have told me to get my tapes; I assumed the deal was off. My tapes are sitting there. But when I try to get them, I can't. MGM bought them." 

A year later, out of the blue, there's an album on the market, Vintage Dead, on another new label, Sunflower (with MGM Records taking manufacturing and distributing credits) - not an anthology but, rather, a Dead album featuring five cuts, all Cohen's, along with, strangely enough, liner notes signed by Cohen. The Dead are wondering. 

Then, three months ago, another album, Historic Dead, four cuts, two credited to Cohen, two to Peter Abram, owner and tape machine-operator at the old Matrix club. It is absolute bottom of the bag, the four songs totalling 29 minutes. Warner Bros., trying to sell contemporary Dead, are pissed. ("The Dead were freaked out because of the timing," Cohen said. 

Vintage was released in fall of 1970, just after Warners had put out Workingman's Dead. Vintage Dead has sold more than 74,000 according to the latest word from Rick Sidoti, general manager of Sunflower Records.) The Dead, not knowing what's happening and not wanting to sound like they're being milked by the phone company, are pissed. And Cohen is suffering from this persecution complex, spinning around dizzily, wondering where to point his finger [for the complete article, see below or follow this link].

With the Berkeley Tribe's mention of Howard Wolf, and the timing described here, it seems plain that the live concerts from the Avalon and the Matrix were the ones intended for Wolf's 3-album anthology. Fellow scholar runonguinmess tracked down Jerry Garcia's comment on the origins of the Vintage Dead material.

Jerry is asked about the Sunflower LPs in a KSAN interview from 1972-06-13 and comes up with a different angle. He says it was originally intended to be a fundraiser for the Family Dog on the Great Highway / The Common. Here's a transcript from fanzine "Hot Angel" No 9.

KSAN: What did you think - I don't want to get into areas of controversy but - what did you think of the live Dead? A couple of albums that were done for MGM - one I think and maybe another one in the works or something?
Jerry: There's the Historic and the Vintage.
KSAN: Bob Cohen asked for your permission I recall.
Jerry: Yeah well, see the thing was it was originally gonna be a whole different thing. It was originally gonna be - this was back in the days when there was a sort of a - an attempt to sort of communityise the Family Dog. It was after the - in the wake of that whole light show strike and all that stuff that was going on, and originally that record was gonna be made - the proceeds were gonna go toward keeping the Family Dog running at the time, and it was originally a whole different record company. But that - the record company that was originally doing it was bought up by MGM, there was some weird swindle went down and actually, as far as the music goes, well it's what we were doing in 66 and we weren't as good then of course as we are now, and - you know, but it is what it is. 

Both of these sagas make sense--a record company mining historic material, for which there was a genuine market, while the Family Dog would have been one of the beneficiaries. Since the material had all been recorded back in 1966, none of the bands would have signed contracts yet, so the music was available for licensing. Using the tapes to finance the new Family Dog venue was a very hippie San Francisco concept, and one that was clearly not to be. 

In the saga, the Dead are quick to give their consent, but no one else does. It's hardly surprising in retrospect. By Summer '69, Moby Grape was in litigation with their manager Matthew Katz--litigation that would go on throughout the balance of the 20th century--so no approval was likely there. Janis Joplin had a high-powered manager, Albert Grossman, who managed Bob Dylan among many others, and he wasn't going to be giving away historic product to support some hippie ballroom. Quicksilver Messenger Service and the Steve Miller Band had ambitious management, too, and they weren't going to cheerily sign away any rights any quicker than Albert Grossman. So the enterprise was never going to reach fruition. 

It seems pretty clear, though, that 1966 music from the Avalon and the Matrix, recorded by the Dead, Big Brother, Steve Miller, Quicksilver, Moby Grape, Daily Flash and Great Society was blasted out over the Family Dog sound system, while the Light Shows did their thing on a Tuesday night. For those few who went, it would have been a genuine flashback to a recent era that was already long gone.

Historic Dead, released on Sunflower/MGM in 1971, and recorded at the Avalon and the Matrix in 1966

Which Dead Tapes?

All Deadheads always have the same questions: which tapes were they, and where are the reels? Vintage Dead and Historic Dead had a total of 9 tracks, if only about sixty minutes of music. The five tracks on Vintage Dead were recorded by Bob Cohen at the Avalon. Because the cover of the album is the poster from September 16-17, it has generally been presumed that represented the show on the record. Scholar LightIntoAshes looked into the subject in detail, however, and determined that the most likely date was December 23 and/or 24, 1966 (not least because Weir sings "Winter's here and the time is right/ For dancing in the streets"). Historic Dead, much more poorly recorded, seems to be a mix of material from the Matrix (Nov 29 '66) and the Avalon. The Avalon date can't really be determined.

But what of the source tapes? Deadheads should brace themselves: Fong-Torres continues his story. Bob Cohen had discovered the tapes were sold to MGM, and tried to wreck the project:

[Cohen made] one desperate attempt at sabotage. He had given Together a set of mix masters, keeping the original tapes himself. "I went to their studios," ostensibly to identify tapes for MGM. "I looked at each box, and I had a big magnet with me and erased the tapes." To no avail. "They had quarter-track dubs made, too, and they were going to release those." Still, he contributed the liner notes for the Vintage album. He said he refused to do anything on the second one, which carries no information on recording dates or places.
So Bob Cohen went and destroyed the tapes, but MGM had made safety copies and they released those. So there were some vintage Avalon tapes from 1966 played at the Family Dog in 1969, never heard before in the outside world. Some were probably played again in September (when a similar show was held on September 25). And then the tapes were destroyed, with only some dubs remaining, released on Vintage and Historic Dead. What else did the Grateful Dead play on December 23 and 24 1966? We won't ever hear.

You can hold out hope, if you want, that Cohen kept his own copies of the Grateful Dead tapes, as he implies that he had. But they have never turned up in the Grateful Dead Vault or anywhere else, and Cohen himself says he has no Grateful Dead tapes in his basement, although he has lots of other stuff. So 1966 Dead tapes, from the Avalon, were played at the Family Dog in 1969, never to be heard again. Sic transit gloria psychedelia.

Appendix: Vintage Dead article in Rolling Stone (complete transcript)

NOT-SO-GOOD OLD DEAD RECORDS-Ben Fong Torres, Rolling Stone, October 28, 1971
SAN FRANCISCO - All Bob Cohen knows is that he didn't mean for it to happen, and he wishes the Grateful Dead wouldn't give him such weird looks whenever he's around them.

Cohen is a sound man, and he was half-owner, with Chet Helms, of the Family Dog, back in the days of the Avalon Ballroom. As such, Cohen made, saved, and owns a pile of tapes of most of the bands that played there - the Grateful Dead among them. 

And when Cohen was approached, in spring of 1969, by a Los Angeles record company to sell some of his tapes for an anthology of circa-hippie San Francisco bands, he could see no problem. It was Howard Wolf doing the talking, and Wolf's immediate past included the two Great Society albums Columbia had issued. And he was representing Together Records, a frisky new label headed by Gary Usher, former producer of the Byrds and Firesign Theatre, among others. In fact, the Dead saw no problems either when they were asked to sign releases for nine cuts. "We didn't dig the tapes, the quality that much," said Rock Scully, "but we thought it'd be nice to have this anthology of all the bands." With the Dead set, all Together had to do was get releases from enough of the other groups, like Big Brother, Moby Grape, Steve Miller, Quicksilver, Great Society, and Daily Flash. The idea was a three-LP package.

 But, Cohen said, "they had trouble getting those releases." Then, "all of a sudden I find out that in one day Together ceased to exist! To settle everything, Gary Usher should have told me to get my tapes; I assumed the deal was off. My tapes are sitting there. But when I try to get them, I can't. MGM bought them." 

A year later, out of the blue, there's an album on the market, Vintage Dead, on another new label, Sunflower (with MGM Records taking manufacturing and distributing credits) - not an anthology but, rather, a Dead album featuring five cuts, all Cohen's, along with, strangely enough, liner notes signed by Cohen. The Dead are wondering.

Then, three months ago, another album, Historic Dead, four cuts, two credited to Cohen, two to Peter Abram, owner and tape machine-operator at the old Matrix club. It is absolute bottom of the bag, the four songs totaling 29 minutes. Warner Bros., trying to sell contemporary Dead, are pissed. ("The Dead were freaked out because of the timing," Cohen said. Vintage was released in fall of 1970, just after Warners had put out Workingman's Dead. Vintage Dead has sold more than 74,000 according to the latest word from Rick Sidoti, general manager of Sunflower Records.) The Dead, not knowing what's happening and not wanting to sound like they're being milked by the phone company, are pissed. And Cohen is suffering from this persecution complex, spinning around dizzily, wondering where to point his finger.

Actually, the Dead are more upset with Sunflower/MGM than with Cohen. "We feel they've perpetuated a hoax on us," said Scully, once a manager of the band. "At the very least, it was a misrepresentation." The Dead just recently got hold of copies of the contract, the original having vanished with Lenny Hart, the ex-manager they recently filed embezzlement charges against. Hart was the Dead representative in the deal, Scully said. "We found that those masters they said we'd signed for had all been penciled in," he said. "Everybody who signed swears there were three masters in there now that weren't in there before." But the fact is, they signed, and there's little, legally, that they can do.

Sunflower Records actually paid royalties to the band, $3650.51 in April for 51,683 albums sold between September 1st, 1970, and February 8th, 1971.

Another statement to Cohen, citing identical sales figures, didn't include a check, instead claiming that a $5000 advance cancelled out any money owed. Which got Cohen further upset. "I haven't got any money from them," he claimed, and when he wrote to Sunflower about it, "they called me up and said they're putting out another album. Now they've told me they're going to take both of them and put them together as a two-LP package for Christmas!" 

So Cohen was thinking about legal action. His friend and attorney, Creighton Churchill, exchanged letters with Sunflower, and he learned that the advance promised to Cohen was contingent on releases being secured from all the bands on the 37 cuts Cohen had provided, and that Sunflower, in the middle of the Together-to-MGM transaction, thought a payment had been made. "So he can get the royalties," Churchill said, "if he's lucky." Churchill also said that Cohen had in fact been paid a separate fee of $1500 for giving the tapes to Together. 

Cohen himself says Howard Wolf got the most money - "about $10,000 in fees and expenses." But Cohen did more than his share of work. After learning about Sunflower's plans for the Dead cuts, he said, "I talked them into at least making it groovy. I put together the Vintage album, because they would've put it out anyway, with or without me. They were gonna put it out as a bootleg. There was no way I could stop them."

So he joined them - after one desperate attempt at sabotage. He had given Together a set of mix masters, keeping the original tapes himself. "I went to their studios," ostensibly to identify tapes for MGM. "I looked at each box, and I had a big magnet with me and erased the tapes." To no avail. "They had quarter-track dubs made, too, and they were going to release those." Still, he contributed the liner notes for the Vintage album. He said he refused to do anything on the second one, which carries no information on recording dates or places.

"We had no liner information," Sunflower's Sidoti claimed, "because we didn't want to take away from the artwork."

Sidoti said he couldn't help Cohen point fingers. "There was nobody involved in the Dead albums from the executive standpoint," he said. "This was a deal made by Together and we just picked up the contract. When Together was disbanded or whatever, the tapes were laying around in the Transcontinental office, and Mac Davis [the veteran songwriter and president of the eight-month-old Sunflower label] bought the tapes from Transcon."

Transcontinental Investment Corporation is the holding group that formed Transcontinental Entertainment Corporation and hired young Mike Curb, now president of MGM Records, to be its head. Curb in turn, hired Gary Usher to form "an avant-garde artist-oriented record label, a division of TEC," as Usher put it. "They made a lot of promises - $1 million to work with, total autonomy, and a three-year minimum. TEC owned 40 percent of the racks in the country; they had lots of money." Usher had been successful with the Beach Boys, co-writing some tunes with Brian Wilson, as well as with the Byrds and Chad and Jeremy (as a producer). He was looking to do something different. 

"I always wanted to do a series called 'Archives.'" In fact, Together put out two interesting collections, one of the Pre-Flyte Byrds, and one of various L.A.-area artists and bands. "Pre-Flyte sold well, it got the company off, and other people started bringing me tapes - Lord Buckley and good material like that." That's when he told Howard Wolf about "Archives" and sent him off to San Francisco.

But six months into Together's existence, Usher said, "Transcon started fudging with money, saying, 'We think the San Francisco scene is bullshit and we don't know who Howard Wolf is.' [Wolf, Usher said, had been advanced $5000 on the project.] I took Howard over there, he explained it, and they bought the idea of one full album from the Grateful Dead." Transcon stock then dropped, Usher said, and Curb split. "I simply walked out of there and went to RCA. I signed all my rights and interest over to TEC, who then sold out of the record business, and MGM took over all the properties." 

So now you have MGM Records, whose president had so loudly announced a purge of all MGM artists who "advocate and exploit drugs," squeezing out every acidic second of Grateful Dead music that they can.  

Sidoti says Sunflower is "a solely-owned label owned by Mac Davis." But MGM, it says on the liners, manufactures and distributes, and even the lion head appears on the two Dead albums. "Well, it's a joint venture with MGM." Watch your choice of words. 

"Mike Curb has nothing to do with it," Sidoti continued. "There's lots of controversy surrounding whatever he does. God bless Mike Curb, whatever his thing is." 

But how do you justify putting out shit and misrepresenting a group at the same time? 

"There was no motive of hurting the Grateful Dead," Sidoti said. Earlier in our conversation - and this helps explain the motive - he had said, "Since the first one sold well, we decided to go ahead with another. We had four masters left over - they were decent tapes. There were a lot of dropouts on the tape, but we got rid of all those. I really think this helped the group. Actually the record buyer would have to be a Grateful Dead freak to be interested, and there's an X amount of people who otherwise couldn't buy the LP and compare."



 

Friday, February 12, 2021

Slewfoot-David Rea Columbia/Windfall Records KC 32485 (1973: Produced by David Rea and Bob Weir

David Rea's Slewfoot album, released on Columbia/Windfall in 1973, co-produced by Rea and Bob Weir

David Rea was an East Coast singer/songwriter signed to Felix Pappalardi's label, Windfall Records. Rea had also briefly been in the English folk/rock band Fairport Convention.  By a series of circumstances I will speculate about, Bob Weir ended up co-producing Rea's solo album in San Francisco in 1972. The supporting musicians for the country-rock sounding music included Keith and Donna Godchaux, various members of the New Riders of The Purple Sage,  John Kahn and other familiar suspects. The album, entitled Slewfoot, was released by Columbia Records in early 1973.

The band Slewfoot was formed to tour behind the album. As auditions were held during recording, all of the members ended up working on the record as well. Through his long association with Dave Torbert, harmonica player Matt Kelly won a spot in Rea's band. From one perspective, the significance of Slewfoot was that it triggered the professional association of Matt Kelly and Bob Weir. Both Kelly and Weir like to tell the story that they went to the same junior high school, and had played football together but not music. Left out of this story is how they connected musically. Of course, their junior high connection gave Weir and Kelly something to talk about, but it was Slewfoot that gave them their musical link. 

The Slewfoot album is enjoyable, though nothing special, and in many ways it is a typical of many record company efforts in the early 1970s. The particular outlier is that not only were the Grateful Dead heavily involved, but that Bob Weir was the outside producer for the only time in his career. Weir shared co-producer credits with David Rea. No one every really talks about Slewfoot, so in this post I will try and fit together the pieces of the puzzle.

David Rea
David Rea (1946-2011) was born in Ohio. In the early 60s, Rea moved to Toronto, working as a guitarist for Gordon Lightfoot and Ian & Sylvia. Joni Mitchell and Neil Young encouraged him to write his own songs, and some of them were recorded by Ian & Sylvia. Rea became an established sideman in Toronto and elsewhere, recording with a wide variety of of artists. Rea released two albums on Capitol Records in 1969 (Maverick Child) and 1971 (By The Grace Of God), both produced by Felix Pappalardi. Pappalardi had helped produce Cream, among other bands, and played bass and produced the band Mountain. 

Since Rea was produced by Pappalardi, he worked with the members of Mountain on his record. As it happened, Rea ended up co-writing a song with Mountain guitarist Leslie West, the immortal "Mississippi Queen." If you say "I don't know 'Mississippi Queen'" you are probably wrong. It was a classic rock tune if there ever was one, and it was in regular use for beer commercials well into the 21st century. When you hear drummer Corky Laing's ringing cowbell, and West's blazing guitar intro, you know what avalanche is coming. To my knowledge, "Mississippi Queen" was the only song West and Rea wrote together, and way out of Rea's normal range, but it confers immortality on its own.

In 1972, Rea rather unexpectedly joined Fairport Convention for a few months. Fairport was in flux (in between Babbacombe Lee and Fairport Nine), and guitarist Simon Nicol had left. Roger Hill had joined as guitarist, and Rea joined as the lead guitarist. Stalwarts Dave Swarbrick on fiddle and Dave Pegg on bass remained, along with drummer Tom Farnell. Odd as this seems--it's odd--I do know that David Rea opened for Fairport at the Troubadour in Los Angeles on September 3-6, 1970, so at least there was some connection. They recorded an album that was never released, since Rea was, essentially, "too American" for Fairport (tagged The Manor Sessions, it was ultimately released as part of disc 4 of Come All Ye: The First Ten Years 7-disc set in 2017). Rea even toured a little bit in Summer '72 (I think I heard a tape from My Father's Place in Long Island), but it just wasn't a fit. Rea left Fairport, replaced by Jerry Donahue.

Come late 1972, and Columbia Records had signed Rea. Since Slewfoot was released as a "Columbia/Windfall" imprint, that tells us that Pappalardi was in the picture. Pappalardi still had clout as a producer, and all the Mountain albums were on Windfall. Windfall had been distributed by Bell Records, but after 1972, Windfall was distributed by Columbia. So even though Pappalardi's name does not appear on the record, he lay behind the signing. The metadata tells us that Columbia Records head Clive Davis was financing the David Rea album as part of a collaboration with Felix Pappalardi.

Producers
Bob Weir is credited with co-producer of Slewfoot, along with David Rea. Weir's credit was not only unprecedented, but never repeated. The strangeness of the credit is magnified by the fact that Weir and Rea clearly did not know each other prior to the album. Although Weir received the occasional producing credit or co-credit for his own work over the years, his solo studio work was largely produced by others. We can only assume that the effort to produce Slewfoot was unsatisfying enough that Weir never wished to repeat it. How did Weir end up in the producer's chair?

The only hypothesis that makes sense for Weir's production is that Columbia Records head Clive Davis was trying to curry favor with Weir. Remember, in July 1972, the Dead had announced that the band was not only leaving Warner Brothers, they were going to become totally independent and start their own record company. Not only was this unthinkable in the 1970s record industry, players like Clive Davis must have just thought it was a negotiating tactic. Thus getting on the good side of key members of the band was part of a difficult dance by Davis to get the Dead signed to Columbia

What did record producers do in the 1970s? A producer could play a variety of roles, but to use some modern terminology, a record producer was both Risk Manager and Project Manager. There were a variety of models for producers, not at all exclusive to each other.

Risk Manager
Producers got a royalty for producing an album (as part of their contract), but they were also responsible for their assigned budget. A producer would have to decide whether to rush a band, or change studios, or take his time, weighing the cost of the record against the resulting sales. When you see a band or artist listed as their own  producer, this mostly refers to the financial risk/reward associated with the record. The band is getting producing royalties, weighed against the cost of the album.

Chief Engineer
Some producers were renowned for their distinctive sounds, and had risen to prominence as brilliant engineers. A classic example of this was Glyn Johns. Johns had engineered many classic English rock albums, such as Beggars Banquet, Abbey Road and Led Zeppelin, and mixed many 60s classics as well (like Joe Cocker! and Let It Bleed). From 1971 onwards, he was largely a producer, engineering his own work, including Who's Next and the first four Eagles albums (Johns' discography is amazing). Johns' sound is the sound of classic rock.

Band Director
Some producers left the engineering to some hired gun, and focused on the songs and the players. A producer like Nick Lowe was always trying to find the right people to play the right song the right way, rather than worrying about the aural landscape. This approach worked very well when the emphasis was on songwriting, like Lowe's production of early Elvis Costello (My Aim Is True, This Year's Model and Armed Forces)

Politician
Some producers' most critical function was as a filter between the artist and record company. Legendary producer Tom Wilson produced "Like A Rolling Stone" for Bob Dylan, and the groundbreaking debut albums by the Mothers of Invention, the Velvet Underground and Soft Machine. On those projects, his principal value seems to have been keeping the record company at bay so that the musicians could do their thing.

Every project would be different, and for each the producer had to figure out how to manage the budget, how much to interfere with the songs, how much to modify the actual soundscape and how to navigate any record company politics. The best producers, like Glyn Johns, George Martin or Todd Rundgren, could wear any and all of those hats with ease.

[With respect to the history of the Grateful Dead, "staff" producers like Bob Matthews, Betty Cantor, Owsley or Dan Healy focused on the engineering. That also seems true of Dave Hassinger (the debut album). Stephen Barncard (American Beauty) and Gary Lyons (Go To Heaven). Keith Olsen, during Terrapin Station, was his own engineer, but he also directed the band far more than any other Grateful Dead producer, demanding section rehearsals and overdubbing an orchestra. Lowell George, for Shakedown Street, was much more of a Band Director and far less focused on the sound itself. Since he never finished the project, we won't ever know how it could have come out].

The great Buddy Cage (1946-2020) on stage

Bob Weir, Buddy Cage and Recording

So what really happened when Weir produced Slewfoot? Rea was pretty much a flatpicker with a country-style voice, so the Buck Owens sound of the 1972 live Grateful Dead seemed made to order. Still, it wasn't Weir who had captured that sound on tape. Slewfoot was recorded at the newly-opened, state-of-the-art Record Plant studio in Sausalito. This alone tells us that Columbia was paying top dollar for this. In early 1973, the New Riders would record Panama Red at The Record Plant, but I'm not sure whether that was before or after the Slewfoot sessions. 

On board as engineers for Slewfoot were Stephen Barncard and Tom Scott. Barncard was already an experienced producer in his own right--he had produced American Beauty--so I don't know why he was just an engineer for Slewfoot. It's possible he didn't have enough time. Tom Scott (not the saxophonist) was a well-regarded engineer, but I think he may not yet have had the experience to get the call as producer. The plan, however, seems to have been to send Rea to San Francisco for a Grateful Dead-styled country rock album, and perhaps the concept was that Weir was the conduit to the right guests.

Bob Weir has always been the nicest and most agreeable member of the Grateful Dead, avoiding many of the feuds and factionalism that are integral to any long-running organization. A diplomatic personality can be an essential trait in a record producer. In contrast, however, Weir was always legendary for being the most disorganized member, and the most likely to be late for any meeting, rehearsal or show. Disorganization was never a helpful trait in producing albums. There is a hint of this on the back cover: Buddy Cage is listed as "Session Coordinator." That is a very rare credit for an album. I have to think it arose only because studio veteran Cage did far more work than might normally have been expected, work that probably should have been done by co-producer Bob Weir. 

Weir had been in the studio many times with the Grateful Dead by 1972, but the Dead had their own teams of technical wizards to manage the hardware. Jerry Garcia, and to some extent Phil Lesh, had already demonstrated some interest in the actual making of albums, but there was no sign that Weir had been particularly hands-on. What was he bringing to Slewfoot?

The album consisted of 10 tracks, five of them written or co-written by David Rea, and five cover songs, played in a honky-tonk country rock style. The album covers two country songs, a variation of a blues classic, a countrified version of a Fairport Convention song (less strange when you realize Rea had just left that group) and a Chuck Berry song. Save for the Fairport song, the other four are all in the vein that the Dead or Kingfish might do, so I suspect Weir played a part in selecting songs. I also assume that Rea had a fair amount of original material, and some choices were made regarding his songs as well. 

For new artists at the time, it was common to include some original material and then cover some recognizable songs, so record buyers could get a feel for an album just by reading the back cover. "Run That By Me One More Time" was not a big hit for Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner, but it was well-known (from the 1970 album Porter Wayne and Dolly Rebecca, actually written solely by Parton), and "The Year That Clayton Delaney Died" had been a big hit for Tom T Hall in 1971. Those songs, along with the Chuck Berry song (the classic "Nadine"), would have given a prospective buyer a view of David Rea's range without actually having heard his music.

Who Played The Sessions?
The enduring curiosity for Deadheads is the credits on the back of the album (see the complete list below). Joining Weir are Keith and Donna Godchaux from the Grateful Dead, and John Kahn on bass. Four of the New Riders are on the album (Cage, Torbert, David Nelson and Spencer Dryden), and there are some familiar faces from other albums, including Richard Greene on fiddle, and Darlene DiDomenico on vocals. DiDomenico was a friend of the NRPS crowd, and sang in various local bands, as well as on some Riders albums. DiDomenico also sang with the infamously notorious Sparky And The Assbites From Hell (a "band" consisting mostly of Grateful Dead road crew). The first track on side one--an important decision back then--is"'Run That By Me One More Time," and DiDomenico shares the call-and-response vocal with Rea.

Richard Greene, an old friend of David Nelson's, plays some prominent fiddle parts. The biggest surprise in the credits is Charles Lloyd on flute and saxophone. Lloyd was known to be friendly with the Dead, but it's surprising to see him play on a country session (in any case, he's inaudible to me on saxophone, but noodles on the flute for one track). The countrified grand piano of Keith Godchaux is plain in a few places, as well. The album credits "Vocal Arrangements" to "Weir/Godchaux," presumably Donna Godchaux. Many tracks have 70s-style "choir" vocals, with plenty of "ooh-oohs," but none of them are distinctive, certainly not as either Bob or Donna.

The last four names on the credits actually became the band Slewfoot, formed to tour and support the album. The fact that the band members effectively auditioned at the Record Plant and even played a little bit on the album tells us that the sessions were fairly extensive, and that Columbia was footing the bill. Harmonica player Matt Kelly, as I have extensively detailed elsewhere, had been in a number of bands with Dave Torbert around 1968. Torbert and Kelly had parted ways but stayed in touch. Kelly had returned to the Bay Area in '72, having spent a lot of time touring on the Chitlin Circuit, playing the blues. It was Torbert who invited Kelly to the Slewfoot sessions, triggering his reunion with Bob Weir.

The other "Slewfoot" band members had similar connections. Guitarist Bill Cutler had worked with Stephen Barncard before, drummer Chris Herold had worked with Kelly and Torbert previously, and bassist James Ackroyd had been part of the "greater Dead family" as one of James and The Good Brothers.  Cutler said that he spent a long day jamming and talking, and agreed to join the Slewfoot band at the end. It's not clear which tracks the new band members played on, save for Kelly's harmonica parts.

Where Was Jerry?
Of course, if Clive Davis' concept was to record in San Francisco in order to affiliate David Rea with the Grateful Dead, where was Jerry Garcia? Davis' longstanding affinity for the Grateful Dead was mostly focused on Garcia. I have to presume that Garcia could have produced Rea's album if he chose, whether or not he was asked directly by Columbia. I also have to think that hiring Weir as a producer would come with the assumption that Garcia would drop in for the sessions.

It's not clear when Slewfoot was recorded, but it was probably late '72/early '73. During that time, Garcia was very busy: writing songs for the upcoming Grateful Dead album, practicing his banjo to get up to speed for Old And In The Way, and gigging at night with Merl Saunders. Now, Rea sounds like a terrific flatpicker in a wide variety of styles, and probably would have had a gas playing bluegrass in Stinson Beach with Garcia, David Grisman and Peter Rowan. And--who knows--maybe some hot-picking acoustic sounds would have set Slewfoot apart, in a way that just covering some country hits did not. But none of it happened.

David Rea and the band Slewfoot played the CBS Record Convention in San Francisco, I think in March of 1973. I think the album came out in the Spring, April or May perhaps. Slewfoot played a few shows around the Bay Area throughout the Summer (see below). But Clive Davis was pushed aside from the top position at Columbia Records, and many of the acts that had been signed under Davis, including David Rea, the Sons of Champlin and the Rowan Brothers, were all dropped. Rea continued to live and perform in the Bay Area for the next 15 years, but his connection to the Grateful Dead ran dry, leaving only an out-of-print album.

The back cover of David Rea's 1973 Slewfoot album on Windfall/Columbia, with his new band of the same name. Matthew Kelly (2-r) carrying the guitar case.

Slewfoot
Album Credits

Side 1
    Run That By Me One More Time (Dolly Parton / Porter Wagoner)[sic: just Parton]
    The Year That Clayton Delaney Died (Tom T Hall)
    Stagger Lee And Billy (Ike Turner)
    Rosie (David Swarbrick)
    Saturday Night Woman (David Rea / Judi Corbo)

Side 2
    Tell Me Where Do All The Good Times Go (David Rea)
    The Light Of The World (David Rea)
    Nadine (Chuck Berry)
    Thank You For Being My Friend (David Rea)
    I Love You (David Rea / Gary Ship)

Musicians
    David Nelson - guitar
    Buddy Cage - pedal steel guitar
    David Torbert - bass
    John Kahn - bass
    Spencer Dryden - drums, percussion
    Bob Weir - guitar, vocals
    Donna Jean Godchaux - vocals
    Keith Godchaux - organ, piano, vocals
    Darlene DiDominico - vocals
    Matthew Kelly - harmonica, percussion, vocals
    Richard Green - fiddle
    Charles Lloyd - saxophone, flute
    David Rea - guitar, piano, organ, chimes, vocals
    James Ackroyd - bass, vocals
    Chris Herold - drums
    Bill Cutler - guitars, vocals

Album Credits
    Producer - David Rea & Bob Weir
    Vocal Arrangements - Weir-Godchaux
    Engineers - Steve Barncard, Tom Scott
    Assistant Engineer - Kurt Kinzel
    Remix & Windfall Quality Control - Bob D'Orleans
    Technical Assistance and Advice - Spencer Dryden
    Session Co-ordinator - Buddy Cage
    Photos & Design - Bob Seiderman, George Hunter
    Communications - Rock Scully
    Recorded at the Record Plant, Sausalito, California

Slewfoot Live

Slewfoot (early 1973)

    David Rea-guitar, vocals
    Bill Cutler-lead guitar
    Matt Kelly-harmonica, guitar
    James Ackroyd-bass
    Chris Herold-drums

The band Slewfoot was formed to tour behind the album. As auditions were held during recording, all of the members ended up working on the album as well. Matt Kelly had been leading bands in the South Bay since 1967. Chris Herold had been in a number of those bands, including the New Delhi River Band, Shango and Horses. Horses had even released an obscure album in 1968. Bill Cutler was a transplanted songwriter from New York city, who also worked as a studio engineer. James Ackroyd had been with the Canadian group James And The Good Brothers, who had been encouraged to relocate to San Francisco after the Festival Express tour. The Good Brothers would return to Canada, but Ackroyd had stayed on.

Interestingly, according to Bill Cutler, Pete Sears was part of the auditions as well. Sears was a great player, and wouldn't have "flunked" at either bass or keyboards. Presumably Sears didn't see a fit for himself, possibly because Sears was more interested in the studio at the time rather than playing nightclubs.

Slewfoot played very few live shows, as far as I can tell. They did play the Columbia Records Convention in early 1973 with the Sons Of Champlin, but I'm not sure precisely when or where that was. When Clive Davis was fired as the head of Columbia Records, David Rea was dropped by the label and Slewfoot ground to a halt. Supposedly there has been an edition of the Grateful Dead Hour with a live recording of the Slewfoot band, but I have been unable to track it down.

My assumption so far is that Columbia was anxious to have David Rea put a band together for a CBS Records convention in San Francisco. Since they played with the Sons Of Champlin, another CBS act (with a new album, Welcome To The Dance), I think the convention was late February/early March. Both the Sons and David Rea ultimately got dropped, in the purge that followed Clive Davis' departure, but I think Davis had big plans. Remember--at the same time, Davis and Columbia were promoting The Rowan Brothers, so Davis was big on San Francisco bands.

The Rowan Brothers and Slewfoot, both Columbia Records acts, are booked for three nights at The Orphanage in San Francisco, July 23-25, 1973.
The only other date I have been able to find in the first part of 1973 was at The Orphanage, at 807 Montgomery in San Francisco, a new club at the time. Since the Rowans and Slewfoot were booked together, it implies a Columbia connection. Of course, the Monday-Wednesday booking wasn't ideal. David Grisman was still probably the organist (yes, organist) for the Rowans at the time, and I assume Kelly and Herold were still onboard. So there's a lot of Grateful Dead history here, but I think the bands were at the end of the line. I haven't been able to pin down Clive Davis' departure but it's about this time. 

David Rea and Slewfoot (Mk 2) described in the San Francisco Examiner Bay Area band guide, from December 30, 1973 (part one was Dec 23)

Slewfoot Mark 2 (late '73/early '74)
Some other evidence I have found suggests that the original Slewfoot band scattered in late Summer '73. Evidence of Bill Cutler's and Matt Kelly's activities all point this way (in another forthcoming and incredibly lengthy blog post). Still, there was another lineup of Slewfoot led by David Rea. At the end of 1973, the SF Examiner ran a piece with the "Mighty 99," the top working rock bands in the Bay Area. It's a great guide to who was in what band at the time. Slewfoot, by the end of '73, was just Rea, bassist James Ackroyd and drummer Jay David. The group seems to have played in late '73 and early '74.

Bob Marley and The Wailers play two nights at "The New Matrix" at 412 Broadway on October 19-20, 1973, later better known as The Stone. Yes really. Stuart Little Band were booked, replacing a band who canceled, who I'm pretty sure were Slewfoot.


The most fascinating booking is this one, but I am all but certain that Slewfoot canceled and was replaced by the Stuart Little Band from Stockton, CA. Bob Marley and The Wailers, then thoroughly unknown, were booked for two nights at a club called The New Matrix. Grateful Dead fans may recognize the address of 412 Broadway as the future address of The Stone. The Stuart Little Band, from Stockton, have described in one band member's book (The Mouse That Almost Roared: yes, I read it) about opening for the Wailers. They replaced some other band on the bill, and I'm pretty sure it was Slewfoot.

update: scholarly Commenter David Kramer-Smyth found out that it was the Sons Of Champlin that canceled, and Slewfoot did indeed open for Bob Marley and The Wailers.

Slewfoot at The Wharf Rat Tavern at Fisherman's Wharf, New Year's Eve '73

Slewfoot appeared to have some sort of residency at a joint called The Wharf Rat Tavern, at 101 Jefferson Street. near Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. Slewfoot appears to have been playing Thursday through Saturday nights throughout January, and probably before that, based on the New Year's Eve booking. The Wharf Rat was on the corner of Jefferson and Mason, right near the waterfront (close to Pier 43). Although Fisherman's Wharf had been a genuine port for fisherman in its day, by the 1970s it was more focused on tourists. Playing one of clubs there on a weekend was probably really good money, much better than opening for the Rowan Brothers on a Wednesday. But Slewfoot was probably playing a lot of covers, too, and they weren't ever going to be reviewed in the newspaper if they played Fisherman's Wharf.

February 8, 1974 Freeborn Hall, UC Davis, Davis, CA: Jesse Colin Young/David Rea with Slewfoot
Jesse Colin Young had left the Youngbloods and gone solo, like so many singer/songwriters at the time. His album Song For Juli was getting a lot of local airplay, and he was playing the college circuit. The fact that Slewfoot opened for a rising artist was a sign that David Rea still had an agent, and wasn't exclusively on the cover circuit. 

March 28, 1974 Inn Of The Beginning, Cotati, CA: Cris Williamson and Melba Rounds/David Rea and Slewfoot
The Inn Of The Beginning was a delightful little club in bucolic Cotati, off in Sonoma County, near to Sonoma State College. It was a wonderful place to see a show, but it was tiny. Opening at the Inn Of The Beginning on a Thursday night was for young guys on the rise, not someone who wrote a hit single and recorded an album produced by a member of the Grateful Dead.

David Rea in 2010 (photo:Jack Bawden)

Aftermath

Slewfoot seems to have ground to a halt, as I found no trace of advertised David Rea performances after the Cotati gig. Now, to be clear, Rea did not give up music. However, he had three kids, and by the 1980s he focused on raising his family. I believe he still played and taught guitar around the Bay Area, but with a greater emphasis on gigs that paid. Good for him. In the mid-80s, with his kids  older, Rea took up writing, performing and recording original material again. Ultimately he moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1995, and he had a thriving career in the region until he passed away in 2011.

The Slewfoot album has never been released on cd. Vinyl copies float around, and every once in a while Deadheads look at it and say "what's this?" It's not a bad record, actually, though not a memorably good one, but so many questions are left unanswered.