In my last post, I took the Hartbeats story up to the summer of 1970:
Now I’ll pick up the trail there and look at a couple mysterious Hartbeats shows played at the Matrix in July 1970. These shows offer nothing but questions – Who was there? What did they play? Were they taped? Did these shows actually take place?
Since nothing is known about these shows, I’ll look at a couple different possibilities of what might have been played. This article will be more speculative than I usually write, but the investigation has turned up many surprises…
We have a short half-hour acoustic Dead set at the end of a New Riders show at the Matrix:
(Weir, interestingly, does not sing any of his songs; but he is there.)
There are NRPS tapes dated 7/29 and 7/30, which are quite rare and I haven’t heard them. But it’s hard to believe that after NRPS played for over an hour, the Dead played six acoustic songs and called it a night – our tape starts cold with To Lay Me Down, and I suspect part of the set is missing. (Although nobody says anything like “We’ll be back” after Sweet Chariot, the standard set-closer…could that have been the end of the evening? Hard to tell.)
Before going further, it’s necessary to plunge into the murky swamp of scheduling at the Matrix. The fact is, we don’t actually know who played there that week!
Checking the Matrix List on this invaluable site -
we see these shows listed for that week:
Mon July 27 - Mickey and the Hartbeats with Jerry Garcia
Tue July 28 - Mickey and the Hartbeats with Jerry Garcia
Wed July 29 - Harvey Mandel
Thu July 30 - Harvey Mandel
Fri July 31 - Smokestack Lightnin'
This list was taken from an ad in the SF Good Times paper.
However, a later ad ran in the Berkeley Tribe that week, listing these shows:
Mon July 27 – nothing listed
Tue July 28 - Mance Lipscomb
Wed July 29 – Mance Lipscomb
Thu July 30 - Smokestack Lightnin'
Fri July 31 - Smokestack Lightnin'
This is quite different – the Hartbeats disappear! (As does Matrix regular Harvey Mandel.)
On top of that, we have the two NRPS tapes that are dated July 29 and 30 – but they are not listed as playing at the Matrix at all that week. I believe these tapes must be from the Matrix, though, as we have no evidence of the New Riders playing anywhere else around then where they would have been recorded. So this signals to me that if we have unlisted NRPS shows happening at the Matrix, it’s all the more likely for the Hartbeats to appear as well – especially if an ad was placed for them at one point.
According to the Matrix List-keeper, “We know that Mance Lipscomb played short sets (say two 35 minute sets) and there would be no problem someone like Harvey Mandel playing a set as well. We also know that Harvey Mandel was a regular “filler” for the Matrix and may have played instead of Mance Lipscomb… The Jerry Site lists NRPS performing on July 29 and 30 and I have no doubts that these dates are spurious. There has never been anything that I have found to support these as valid dates. And to be honest, I have never been entirely convinced that the Mickey and the Hartbeats dates are correct either - although I have little to argue against the Monday listing.”
It seems to me that scheduling must have been pretty loose at the Matrix – it must not have been uncommon for people to wander in expecting one band, only to find a different group onstage. (In August ’70, the Matrix List shows bands being replaced three weeks in a row!)
We have a few possibilities here –
Maybe the Hartbeats canceled. (But I must say, the chance of Jerry Garcia canceling this type of show is pretty small.)
Or, the Hartbeats shows were simply NRPS shows.
And/or, Harvey Mandel canceled, and was tentatively replaced by Mance Lipscomb.
And/or, the New Riders appeared and played after Lipscomb’s sets.
Or, nobody showed up due to the confusion, and the Matrix closed its doors that week!
To me, it looks like July 27 is still an open date for the Hartbeats to appear (and as a Monday, it was the day Garcia and Howard Wales usually came to play anyway). And as the aging 75-year-old Mance Lipscomb probably wouldn't play all night, it would be easy enough for another group to follow him on the 28th. (One wonders, too, about his health!) The Matrix performance schedule seems flexible (or contradictory) enough that NRPS may well have played on the 29th and 30th, as the tapes claim. But it’s also quite possible, given the fuzzy dating of many Matrix tapes, that they played on the 27th and 28th, and the tapes were later misdated.
In any case, I will assume that the Hartbeats and the New Riders played the Matrix that week. But a new dilemma raises its head – what if these tantalizing Hartbeats appearances were simply regular NRPS shows? It would be some of the same musicians showing up, either way.
But I would bet not. For one, the New Riders sometimes played on their own at the Matrix, and were billed as such – for instance, on July 7 they were advertised by themselves (“with Jerry Garcia, Marmaduke, Mickey Hart”). The Jerrysite notes that there’s a tape of that show, in which there’s no pedal steel, but Garcia uniquely plays electric guitar and banjo in the NRPS set! (Maybe the pedal steel ran into trouble coming back from Canada?) There is also a NRPS Matrix tape dated Sept 2, though again the Matrix List casts doubt on that date.
And it’s also a matter of faith on my part, that if someone chose to advertise “Mickey & the Hartbeats with Jerry Garcia,” something else must have been planned. The New Riders may have opened for the Hartbeats, but I don’t think they’d substitute for them.
One thing to remember is that in the usual contract with Bill Graham, the band basically could not advertise another show within a month or a 50-mile radius of shows at his venues. Considering they played at the Fillmore West every two months that year, this restriction mostly ruled out other Dead shows in San Francisco!
(2/4/70 was an arranged TV taping, not a regular show. The main exception to this rule seems to have been the Family Dog run in late February. Based on this post, I have to wonder if Bill Graham was in some sort of partnership with the Family Dog that month -
Aside from that - in February ‘69 we find a pair of Hartbeats shows at the Matrix, played immediately before the Fillmore run. In April ‘70, the Hartbeats shows at the Family Dog came just days after the Fillmore/Winterland run. And in July, the Hartbeats shows were played twenty days before another Fillmore West run. So it’s easy to suspect that the band were using the Hartbeats name to play smaller places when they felt like it.
It also seems likely that the band posed as the Hartbeats when they wanted to experiment with something new onstage, like a loose jam or a guest player, without raising fans’ expectations and drawing the usual Dead crowds. (It’s not known how many Dead fans at the time even knew about the Hartbeats name.)
The last billed "Hartbeats" shows, back in April '70 at the Family Dog, had been expanded acoustic sets played along with the New Riders. The idea seems to have been to try out the Dead’s whole acoustic repertoire in preparation for lengthening their acoustic sets in later shows.
We also know that the Dead were writing a bunch of new songs for American Beauty in July ‘70 - in fact, several songs first appear on tape in the Fillmore West acoustic sets a couple weeks later in August. (Truckin’, Ripple, Brokedown Palace, and Operator. We also find Pigpen playing piano on several songs, showing that the band was bringing him more into their new music.)
So my first theory is that these July "Hartbeats" shows had much the same purpose as the April shows at the Family Dog – an acoustic tryout in a small venue, introducing a bunch of brand-new songs live to see how they played.
There’s another reason it’s likely that the Dead would have played a couple acoustic shows at the Matrix. For that same week, we know they played a couple MORE acoustic shows at another club in San Anselmo!
The Berkeley Tribe paper that week listed “New Riders of the Purple Sage & Grateful Dead [at the] Lion’s Share, 9 pm” on July 31 and August 1.
One witness who went to the Lion’s Share remembers that these were acoustic shows; they have otherwise been forgotten. No tapes are known to survive.
(You might wonder whether the NRPS/Dead acoustic shows on tape could come from these shows. But at the Matrix, we know SBD tapes were rolling all the time. Not at the Lion’s Share. The Dead were not taping their own shows anymore, and no Lion’s Share SBDs seem to have been taped in 1970. A later soundman at the Lion’s Share did tape shows, from June ’71 to January ’72; but his earlier counterpart in 1970 seems not to have had the taping bug.)
On August 5, the Dead played a show at the Golden Hall in San Diego. We have a tape of an hour-long acoustic set:
Most of the band is playing, along with John Dawson singing and David Nelson playing mandolin. (I only hear one drummer, presumably Hart.) The setlist includes the recently debuted To Lay Me Down and El Paso, the Dead’s only version of Carl Perkins’ Drink Up and Go Home, and rarely played versions of the old-time standard Tell It To Me and Mississippi John Hurt’s Ballad of Casey Jones.
Our tape is not from the master – it’s cut between songs, so it's from a longer source, but impossible to tell what else they may have played, or if it’s in the right order. Due to the tape edits, more songs or even a whole other set could be missing. (The tapebreaks sound too clean to have been done by the taper – on 7/14/70 for instance, when Bear stopped the tape between songs, the first notes of each song got cut. Since editing a tape while copying takes much longer than simply copying it, I’d guess the copyist was recording onto a limited amount of tape, say 60 minutes.)
This tape is not what it appears to be.
It's hard to believe that the Dead would make a trip to San Diego just to play a short set of acoustic songs. Aside from the tape, I feel that the Dead would not have done an out-of-town acoustic-only show in a large theater – something they never did - at least not unless the show was advertised as something like "Acoustic Dead".
And as far as we know, the San Diego show was played without NRPS. Since our "8/5/70" tape has Dawson and Nelson on it, I think that further disproves it's from San Diego.
Another question is – who would have taped the show in San Diego? The Dead’s recording crew had gone on the Medicine Ball Caravan, making the existence of an SBD from the Golden Hall quite an unsolved puzzle. (Outside of the Fillmore East, there are only a couple mystery stealth-SBDs taped at all the Dead’s shows between July and November ’70.)
But for the real proof, listen to the the applause: how small the crowd is, and how close the audience is to the mikes. That is absolutely not from a large theater like the Golden Hall. (Listen to any Golden Hall show - like say, 1/10/70 – and you’ll hear the audience sounds completely different, much larger and farther away.) Our tape is from a small club. In fact, it sounds very much like the small crowd in the 7/30/70 Matrix tape.
(Also – and this is more a vague feeling, I don’t offer it as additional proof – the “8/5” set resembles the laid-back feeling on 7/30 much more than the usual boisterous acoustic sets played in larger halls to charged-up Dead audiences.)
So it’s easy to conclude that our "8/5/70" tape is actually one of the July Matrix shows. Not only that, but it may well be one of the Hartbeats sets.
Beyond that, speculation cannot go. Actually, if I’m right about one or perhaps both of these acoustic Dead tapes being the “Hartbeats”, it would blast part of my theory – these sets are in no way American Beauty rehearsals. There is only one new song played between the two sets, To Lay Me Down – the rest of the sets are acoustic business-as-usual.
So what do we know about the real San Diego show on 8/5? Nothing, actually. It seems NRPS was not billed, so it may have been just the Dead. (I think NRPS was usually listed in ads when they opened for the Dead.) Due to the mislabeled tape, it’s been assumed all these years that it was an acoustic-only show, but I’m not sure of that. If the Dead had played an all-acoustic show in San Diego without prior notice, that would have left a lot of disappointed fans. I also doubt that the Alembic crew’s departure on the Medicine Ball Caravan left the Dead completely unable to play an electric show. (More on that later.) But the question is still up in the air.
Possibly a review or mention of the show may yet be found in the San Diego underground press of that month.
It remains a mystery how a Matrix tape could have been labeled as the San Diego 8/5 show. Not knowing the tape’s history, there’s no telling; we know it started circulating in the seventies, when misinformation was rife. (On page 23 of the Taping Compendium, it’s listed among a batch of tapes that emerged around ’72, many of which had the wrong dates on them.) It certainly wouldn’t be the only misdate of the year – old-time traders may remember “2/12/70 Ungano’s” (actually 2/13/70), “5/19/70 St Louis” (actually 5/1/70), the “7/10/70 SBD” (actually 4/12/70), or even “8/28/70” (from 12/11/69), among others.
At the end of August, the Dead played another pair of acoustic shows at Thee Club in Los Angeles. The shows were advertised as the “Good New Grateful Dead” – the club was just opening, and it seems the owners thought that with a successful new album out, the Dead would be the perfect opening act for the venue. The poster says:
“As we near completion of construction, we would like you to know what’s happening at THEE CLUB...
Thursday Aug 27th, at 8:30 pm, THEE CLUB opens for dancing and listening.
Friday & Saturday Aug 28th & 29th, the acoustical GRATEFUL DEAD and the riders of the purple sage. Come by.”
Though no tapes were made, it looks very likely that these Dead sets were all-acoustic. Here we have a smaller club, with shows advertised as “acoustical” – which was not the case with the San Diego show.
THE MEDICINE BALL CARAVAN
In August 1970 the band were to go on a filmed cross-country concert trip sponsored by Warner Brothers (much like the Festival Express). Warners was excited by the possibilities of another Woodstock-like film – the tour was meant to be a counter-cultural (but profitable) display, in which the Caravan would travel in buses and live in tepees between gigs. But the Dead, fresh from Canada, had uneasy thoughts about the plan – managers Jon McIntire and Sam Cutler felt the tour was “appallingly organized,” and the band was suspicious about the logistics and another possible drug bust. The tour was to start on August 4; according to McNally, the band pulled out on the evening of August 3. But, as McNally says, “Alembic, which had been hired to provide the sound system, remained involved, so mixers Bob Matthews and Betty Cantor and the sound crew went off with the Caravan.”
Betty Cantor said, “The Medicine Ball Caravan was a movie Warner Brothers made about a caravan of hippies, hog farmers, etc, traveling across the country and to England, setting up outdoor concerts. WB brought in a lot of their big acts to perform at the different venues along the way. The Dead were supposed to go as well. So we signed up on that as the recording and PA company, but then the Dead backed out at the last second. We were already contracted to do it, so we had to go; we were stuck in that situation. We traveled cross-country, went to Europe and did all that stuff, so Steve Barncard came in and did American Beauty.”
The Dead stayed home without their sound crew and started recording the new album at Wally Heider’s studio with Steve Barncard. (Bob Matthews, who had co-produced Workingman’s Dead, felt betrayed that they’d use a different engineer!) Barncard remembers, “Frankly, I had heard bad stories about engineers’ interactions with the Dead, and about how they always had a thousand people in the control room and hippies camping out in the studio and massive acid parties. But what I found were a bunch of hardworking guys – a great, tight band who had woodshedded everything, who knew exactly what they wanted to lay down and where they wanted to go with it. The vocals were all ready. There was not a lot of experimentation. They had sat around in a circle and rehearsed this record with acoustic guitars, and played most of the songs live, too, I believe, so they were ready to go.”
The Dead took advantage of the extra time now available to layer the album with many overdubs and guests, so the recording was lengthier than Workingman’s Dead had been. The New Riders have a heavy presence on Box of Rain – Dave Torbert played bass, and David Nelson played the electric guitar. Garcia added pedal-steel here and there (with relatively restrained guitar parts throughout); David Grisman came in to put mandolin on Friend of the Devil and Ripple; Ned Lagin dropped by and played piano on Candyman; and Howard Wales was the most frequent guest, playing on Truckin’, Candyman, and Brokedown Palace.
While the Dead recorded, these were the planned Medicine Ball Caravan tour dates:
8/4/70 Virginia City, NV
8/6/70 Albuquerque, NM
8/9/70 Denver, CO
8/11/70 Omaha, NE
8/14/70 Bloomington, IN
8/20/70 Wheeling, WV
(As an aside, I wonder when the August 17-19 Fillmore West shows were booked? I assume these were sometime in advance of August - were the Dead planning to dash back to San Francisco in between shows on the 14th and 20th? That would probably best explain the strange long gap in the Caravan’s tour dates; if so, perhaps the Caravan had initially been scheduled around the Dead’s availability, rather than the other way around; or perhaps the Dead only planned to play selected stops on the tour. Blair Jackson mentions that various acts came and went for different shows.)
A free show in Washington DC on 8/22 was planned, but probably didn’t happen:
Although the plan seems to have been to play at the Isle of Wight festival on August 25, things didn’t work out quite that way – after roaming around the US, the Caravan disbanded, and ended up playing the “hastily organized” Canterbury festival in the UK on August 31 with a different lineup!
That page notes, “The festival also boasted a stellar sound system for the time, provided by Alembic studios, who made equipment for the Grateful Dead (who were supposed to be the original house band for the tour, but who pulled out for unknown reasons). Their place was taken by Stoneground, a ten piece band from the Bay Area....”
(The eventual Medicine Ball Caravan film, released in 1971, was a flop.)
The Caravan’s limited impact on the Dead, I think, has been misunderstood. It’s been thought that the Dead canceled because the tour would interrupt their recording plans (when actually, they didn’t start recording til the tour was underway, and no biographer mentions this reason) - or that Alembic’s departure is why we have no SBD tapes from this period (when actually, the Dead had stopped recording themselves some time before, and wouldn’t resume for several months).
Since the Dead’s sound crew had gone off on tour, it’s said, the Dead were left without their usual sound system and had to play acoustic shows. The San Diego show coincides with the start of the Caravan, so it must have been acoustic - the acoustic Los Angeles shows at the end of the month also seem to fit this pattern, as the Caravan was then in England. (In between, the only shows were at the Fillmore West, where the Dead could rely on the in-house sound system.) So it’s seemed that clearly, with the Dead’s sound equipment on the road, that would explain all these acoustic shows.
But I don’t think this is the case, for multiple reasons.
First, we now know the Dead were already playing a series of small-club acoustic shows a week before the Caravan even got underway. The idea was already in the air; and at that point, the Dead thought they’d be playing on an electric tour in August. (And there is now no proof that the San Diego show was at all acoustic.)
Also, since the Dead originally planned to go on the Caravan, they would not have booked other shows through August. (Save for the Fillmore run?) Pulling out at the last minute, they found themselves with a blank, unscheduled month. (Indeed, it seems a wonder they played anywhere on August 5th - it must have been booked ahead of time in between the two Southwest Caravan stops on the 4th and 6th.)
But they made the most of the opportunity. Indeed, they dashed into the recording studio as soon as they could – according to McNally, they started recording American Beauty on August 6th! (Workingman’s Dead had been released at the end of June, but the band already had a bunch of new songs they were eager to get down.) They got so wrapped up in the studio, they apparently played no shows at all in the first two weeks of September, despite the return of their sound crew. McNally says they recorded up to September 16, though Blair Jackson says they did overdubs into early October. But it looks like their intense involvement in the studio, more than anything else, is responsible for the lack of electric shows in this period.
But there’s also another reason to think the Dead could have played electric shows in August even without their own sound gear.
It’s often forgotten that the Dead’s eastern tour of October 1970 was ALSO done without the Alembic team or their equipment – much to the Dead’s regret! (I am not sure if Bob Matthews & co. were otherwise engaged, or if the Dead simply had to make this a low-budget tour with few personnel.)
The Stony Brook shows of October 30-31 are notorious for the Dead’s displeasure at the student sound mixers. (Weir: “Hey man, turn the microphones up, leave ‘em right there - don’t touch the fucking things, man, ‘cause you don’t know what you’re doing!” Pigpen: “Mister Soundman sir…if I don’t get it the way I want it, I’m going to rip off your head and shit in it.”)
Garcia said after the first show on October 10, “It was shitty. I mean, we flew all day long and came here for that gig, and didn’t get a chance to check out the sound very well… The PA system wasn’t too good, and the sound was muddy on stage, and when it’s muddy it just destroys any kind of hope for good interaction. You know, we can sort of play together instinctively, so it was together, but it wasn’t really high because it wasn’t enjoyable.”
He also pointed out, “We don’t take anybody on the road with us or anything. We don’t make that much bread… If we were making enough bread to be able to afford to do that, we would have had our own PA last night, and we would have gone through a number of sound tests to do what we could to make it better. But we don’t have any control over any of that shit, so we have to use whatever is there. It depends on there being at least a fairly decent one, and that’s hardly ever the case.” In his view, the Fillmore East and the Capitol Theater in Port Chester were the only two theaters in the US set up for good sound and good lighting! “They are the only two places that are set up pretty groovy all around…the rest of the places we play are sort of anonymous halls and auditoriums and gymnasiums, and all those kinds of places.”
(With less equipment and crew to drive around, this may also partly explain why we find Garcia, and perhaps the others, flying back to San Francisco in between Dead shows on this eastern tour. For Garcia, at least, a long plane flight to some small club gig was far preferable to a long motel stay!)
Garcia was also asked why the New Riders didn’t play at every Dead show. “It’s a question of can we afford it… Like at the Fillmore, they pay us enough where we can bring whatever we want, pretty much. But at other places, like colleges and stuff like that where we’re playing in a small hall and they’re not going to have much in the way of gross capacity, and everyone is going to bust in anyway, we can’t afford to bring that many people and to do all that… We take them with us when we can. We work it out in front, but a lot of times, whoever the promoter is says, ‘No, we don’t want the New Riders ‘cause we don’t know who the fuck they are.’”
So that may be one reason the New Riders weren’t billed at the San Diego show!
You might think that, if the Dead had experimented with playing low-cost acoustic shows without their crew back in August, we’d see the results in the fall tour. But, far from breaking out the acoustics, the Dead actually played NO acoustic sets in October 1970! In fact, after August, it seems they didn’t play acoustic sets anywhere except for Garcia’s two favorite theaters, the Fillmore East and the Capitol. (Even when acoustic shows were advertised in December, the Dead played electrically anyway.)
Perhaps the band decided that acoustic sets just didn’t work well in settings outside small clubs. Garcia was unhappy with how acoustic guitars were amplified in theaters – he later said, “That was one of the reasons we didn’t do it for so long — we used to try it with microphones, and it really didn’t work. It’s much easier now that they have made vast improvements in amplified acoustic instruments.” (Ironically, in 1980 when the equipment was better, the acoustic sets would be short-lived because Weir didn’t like the pressure – as Garcia said, “I think Weir doesn’t feel comfortable playing acoustic music. I personally would like to do it more often. Bob doesn’t seem to like to do it very much, so we don’t press it.” Garcia, of course, went on to play many acoustic shows in his other bands.)
There are plenty of instances in 1970 where the band complains about the sound. For instance, it’s funny to listen to Garcia and Weir repeatedly asking Bear to turn up the guitars in the 7/14/70 acoustic set at the Euphoria Ballroom: “Hey, can you hear the guitars out there? [crowd: No!] How about turning the guitars up real loud in the PA?… Hey man, they cannot hear the guitars out there, make the guitars loud!… We can’t hear what we’re doing, and they can’t hear what we’re doing… It’s really pathetic, man, I can’t hear what I’m doing up here… You’d think that after five years of that, you’d have an ear!”
But after all that - it must be admitted, we don’t know if the July ’70 Hartbeats shows at the Matrix were actually acoustic. In fact, there’s a strong reason to think they weren’t.
Garcia briefly mentioned in his interview with Hard Road magazine in June ’70, “Mickey Hart and the Hartbeats is me and Mickey and Phil.” Nothing about acoustic sets, or stealth shows in small clubs. For Garcia, at least, perhaps the Hartbeats were still just the sideband of ’68, jamming out with whoever was available.
And at the Matrix, there was always someone available. For the past few months, Garcia had been jamming most Mondays at the Matrix with Howard Wales. We know there was a Hartbeats show in August ’69 with Wales (for which, apparently, NRPS also opened). And if the Hartbeats showed up at the Matrix on Monday, July 27, Wales may have been waiting for them. (The week before, July 20-21 had been listed as “Howard Wales and Friends,” typical code for jam sessions.)
McNally’s book says that at one point, the Dead auditioned Wales as their keyboard player. Weir said of the occasion, “We spurred him towards new heights of weirdness, and he spurred us towards new heights of weirdness…much too weird, much too quick…everybody backed off, scratched their head, and said, ‘Well, maybe, uh, next incarnation.’”
McNally suggests this took place sometime around September ’71, which would have been shortly after Wales and Garcia had finished recording Hooteroll around June ‘71. Perhaps Garcia, inspired by the flights of jazzy weirdness he’d played in the studio with Wales, was hoping to merge that with the “shoot-em-up saloon-band” Dead of ’71.
Wales had a different view, though: “I never got along with the rest of those guys. There was a lot of jealousy… The only person I was friends with was Jerry. In fact, they were very jealous over the fact that we did Hooteroll together.”
That does not sound like the most welcoming environment for an audition! And the interesting thing is, it was Merl Saunders, not Wales, who did organ overdubs for the Dead’s new live album in the summer of ‘71.
Considering we don’t know the date of the Wales “audition,” I have to wonder if it may be hidden in the Hartbeats shows of July 1970. The last known booked Garcia/Wales show at the Matrix was on August 24 – and it was exactly during August/September that Wales spent time with the Dead in the studio, contributing to three songs on American Beauty. So it seems more likely that Wales would play with the Dead in this period, rather than in mid-’71.
More than that, we don’t know. Any variation of things might have happened at the Hartbeats shows. Perhaps Wales didn’t appear, and there was just an NRPS/acoustic show – perhaps he played with them one night, and they played acoustic sets another night – perhaps someone else entirely came by and jammed with them - perhaps there were no Hartbeats shows! The revised Matrix ads removing the Hartbeats might take us in the right direction, after all.
Although Matrix shows were generally taped by Peter Abram, many were later taped over, and it’s uncertain how many still survive. Though the NRPS shows and acoustic fragments made it into circulation, who knows how many Wales sets remain in the vaults, untouched by intrepid deadheads? Until Abram’s collection comes to light, we must linger in a cloud of uncertainty.
If Wales did play, we can guess from the 8/28/69 tape and the Side Trips release (taken from earlier Matrix ’70 jams) what it would have sounded like. Weir had sat out the August ’69 jam with Wales, and it’s easy to hear why he would not have been interested in the strange music that Wales put out. John Kahn (who played bass for these Matrix jams) said, “I didn’t know what kind of music Garcia and Wales would be playing down at the Matrix when I went down. And I still don’t know! It was a kind of weird jazz with these other influences… We didn’t play anything very basic at all. It didn’t sound like any music you would be used to.”
Wales tried describing his freeform jams: “I generally induced certain phrasings and stuff that basically would incorporate sort of a composition of a song, but the thing is, it started at one place and ended up in other places.” Garcia found this wild: “Howard would just play through tremendously extended changes. It developed my ear…so outside and totally unpredictable.”
One thing Garcia enjoyed about these jams was that there were no audience expectations – for there was no audience. As Kahn said, “We played Monday nights there for a while (when everybody was in town), and for the longest time, hardly anybody would show up. We’d get ten people and split ten dollars four ways at the end of the night… People just didn’t seem interested, or maybe they didn’t even know about it. After a while people did start to come.”
But while Wales was happy to play this kind of thing to an empty Matrix club with maybe ten people watching, he was not so thrilled to find the Dead fans pouring in to see Jerry Garcia once Workingman’s Dead took off in the summer of 1970.
Kahn said, "We went there one night, and really out of nowhere the place was packed...Howard freaked. It got to be too much of a scene. Since it was fun, we decided to get another keyboard guy, and I knew Merl. Vince Guaraldi played for a while."
(In another interview, Kahn said much the same thing: "For a while nobody ever came. Then finally one night there were a lot of people out there, and Howard realized that's not what he wanted to do, and he stopped doing it. So I got Merl Saunders...")
Garcia remembered it similarly: "Periodically Howard gets this thing of where he can't deal with the music world anymore, and he just disappears. So we were stuck there, and we were supposed to play Monday night, and we didn't have a player. John said, 'Well, I just did some sessions with this guy Merl Saunders.'"
If anyone killed the Hartbeats, it may well have been Merl Saunders. With Wales’ departure, Garcia was anxious to keep the jams going, and within two weeks they had replaced him with Saunders. Garcia is the last person I could imagine feeling “stuck” without an organ player around, but it seems in 1970 he wasn't comfortable holding the stage with just a bass & drum accompaniment, as he had back in ’68. The guitar-centered trio format of the early Hartbeats was no longer interesting for him, and he never played that way again.
There’s a telling comment in this discussion of the year’s Matrix shows:
“For the type of electric guitar playing Garcia wanted to do in the 1970s, a keyboard was essential, and the jazzier and more sophisticated the player was, the better. Merl wasn’t quite the tiger that Wales was, but he had a vast experience in live jazz that Garcia could draw from… Garcia and Kahn went looking for a keyboard player, rather than a guitar player… The need for a keyboard player tells us where Garcia wanted to grow.”
Saunders said when he first played with Garcia, “The chemistry between us was instant. I’d hear Jerry playing, and the music was going one way and I’d hear him drifting off in this other much cooler direction, so I’d be right there with him, and we’d sort of smile at each other…”
According to Garcia, “When I started playing with Merl I went to a more organ-style trio. I played big, fat chords and did a lot of that walking-style chord shifting on the blues numbers, and things that Merl is so good at. My style is much more conventional, in a way, with him, and it’s very satisfying for me to play and hear myself as a conventional player. It’s a kind of playing that I don’t do in the Grateful Dead.”
Indeed, Garcia would keep playing with Saunders for years, and they would soon take their collaboration outside the usual Monday Night Jams at the Matrix. Whereas the shows with Wales had all been far-out instrumentals, Saunders used a wider, more conventional repertoire. Kahn felt that “with Merl, we started to learn songs, and developed.” Saunders said, “We started doing standard songs because I loved standards. Jerry was very interested in those songs and how to play them. As a matter of fact, one of the classic songs was My Funny Valentine, which we recorded. Jerry loved standard songs. He liked the challenge.”
Garcia was game: “That required a whole lot of quick education for me, and Merl was responsible for that. He really helped me improve myself on a level of harmonic understanding. Playing with him required a whole different style from 3-chord rock & roll, or even 10-chord rock & roll; it was a wholly different thing. But what I was able to bring to that situation was the ability to use odd-length runs in conventional formats. I was able to use ideas that were rhythmically uneven because of working in odd time signatures so much with the Dead…
[Merl] filled me in on all those years of things I didn’t do. I’d never played any standards; I’d never played in dance bands. I never had any approach to the world of regular, straight music. He knows all the standards, and he taught me how bebop works. He taught me music – between the combination of Howard and Merl, that’s where I really learned music. Before it was sort of, ‘Okay, where do I plug in?’ I picked up the adult version of a music attitude from these guys.”
While playing with Saunders at the Matrix, Garcia started recording Hooteroll in the studio with Wales - they would even go on a little northeast tour in 1972. But that’s a different story for another time…
These posts cover some investigations into the Hooteroll sessions -
(There are many false paths, red herrings, and treacherous detours there, though, so someone should write an updated summary at some point!)
As the Dead went its own insular way, Garcia was hungry to continue his musical education. During September ’70, when he started playing with Saunders, the Dead were finishing American Beauty at Wally Heider’s studio, and the various Hartbeats members (Garcia, Lesh, Hart, Kreutzmann) found themselves jamming with other San Francisco musicians also using the studio. These resulted in the PERRO sessions, where albums like Blows Against the Empire and If I Could Only Remember My Name were created by combinations of members from different bands, playing as an extended family under the guidance of Kantner or Crosby (depending whose album it was).
Garcia admitted in October ‘70, “I play with a whole lot of different people, in a whole lot of different contexts; I do a lot of studio stuff, and I’m just into music a lot. With me it’s, like, constantly adding experience and new ideas and new input. Everybody has their own way of doing it. Like, Phil Lesh buys billions of records, listens to music all the time, gets manuscripts, studies orchestral arrangements and things… Me and Phil and Bill Kreutzmann have been playing with David Crosby for his album.”
Their studio work in the PERRO sessions actually led to a little revival of the Hartbeats concept, as Garcia and Lesh formed a little side-band with David Crosby that played a few shows in December ’70, mostly at the Matrix, while they were recording his album.
I’ve written about this “David and the Dorks” collaboration before (in the Crosby section here - http://deadessays.blogspot.com/2010/08/byrds-and-dead.html ).
Since then, though, it’s come to light that Kreutzmann, not Hart, played drums at one of the David & the Dorks shows, and perhaps more – making it uncertain how much Hart was involved with the group. (Hart also played much less than Kreutzmann on Crosby’s studio album, though that may be for other reasons – without a timeline of the studio sessions, it’s hard to draw any conclusions.)
There’s a discussion of their 12/21/70 Pepperland show (perhaps opening for the Dead) here:
And a few more details & photos here:
It’s not known why this little group was so short-lived - it’s not like Garcia or Crosby were doing anything else in January ’71, and the Dead were on a little vacation that month. Like the Hartbeats, it just vanished.
Phil Lesh had never been the most eager Hartbeats participant – it had mostly been Garcia and Hart’s trip. As of mid-1970, Garcia was involved in another side-band that was much more satisfying for him; and as of February ’71, Mickey Hart left the Dead. So that was it for any more Hartbeats shows.
The Grateful Dead were also going through their changes in 1970. As the two new albums showed, they were becoming more interested in simpler music, and cutting back on the psychedelic voyages of yesteryear. A number of jam vehicles they entered the year with didn’t make it to 1971; Dark Star became much more infrequent; and by the fall ’70 tour, their shows were full of short country-rock-type songs that audiences could boogie to.
Garcia was asked in October if the audiences often called for favorite songs. “We try and discourage that, as much as possible. But we fall into patterns. We’ll have a pattern a year… We get into this habitual thing, and finally everybody will get so colossally bored with it that in about a year, bam, it will all change. There will be a whole new thing, and then we’ll start building on that, and then in a year it will all change completely. It’s like that, we go into long phases.”