March 31, 2011

The Hartbeats - July 1970

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.


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 - ).
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.”

March 24, 2011

1968 - The Firing

In mid-1968, Pigpen and Bob Weir were briefly kicked out of the Grateful Dead. I’ve written about this in a couple previous posts; but it’s still an episode that’s known more by rumors than facts. In fact, we’re not even sure just when or for how long either Pigpen or Weir were actually out of the band. Ultimately, though, it had a far-reaching impact – not only was it the impetus for Tom Constanten joining the band, but a groundbreaking tour was also canceled as a result, and it also kick-started Garcia’s side projects at the Matrix. So it’s time to explore what happened in detail…


Jon McIntire, one of the band’s managers, had known them from the earliest days. “When I first saw them, they had just quit being the Warlocks and they were not necessarily that good, with the exception of Pigpen. Pigpen could sing really well and play really effective blues organ… I think everyone would admit that he was the best musician at the beginning; certainly the best singer, by far.”
Garcia agreed: “Pigpen was the only guy in the band who had any talent when we were starting out. He was genuinely talented… He was the guy who really sold the band, not me or Weir. Back then, Weir was almost completely spaced. He was just barely there. And I was aggressively crazy…but I wasn’t really what made the band work. Pigpen is what made the band work.”
And Mickey Hart also believed, “Pigpen was the musician in the Grateful Dead. When I first met the Grateful Dead, it was Pigpen and the boys.”
Lesh remembered, “We all learned how to play together… Now we each know how to play well enough that we can play with other people, but for a long time it wasn’t true – except for Jerry, who had a head start on all of us, and Pigpen, who was the king.”
Sue Swanson, their first fan, said, “Pigpen was the only one who was really a showman. He’d get out there and work the audience, and the band would be behind him.”

Pigpen was widely considered the Dead’s frontman – indeed, he was well-known enough to be considered “a symbol of the Haight.” As McIntire says, “Pigpen was really the most recognizable figure in the band the first few years. It took a few years for [it] to happen that so much of the focus was on Jerry.”
In 1966 the Grateful Dead fan club even produced a Pigpen t-shirt, available in three colors for $2.50. (Sue Swanson said, “It’s no coincidence that the first t-shirt was a Pigpen t-shirt.”)
(A radio DJ asked him in ’66, “I understand there’s a Pigpen t-shirt. Does this mean you’ve arrived and you’re a star now?” Pigpen replied, “Well, it’s their fault over there – the fan club.”)
Also illustrating how familiar he was, in 1969 there was a Pigpen Lookalike Contest to promote Aoxomoxoa. [ mistakenly lists this as an Anthem of the Sun promo.]
Apparently nobody won.

Peter Albin: “I thought he was an excellent harmonica player and that the band was stifling the guy… But I guess the harmonica didn’t really fit in with a lot of the direction they were taking, so he played more keyboards.”
True, Pigpen was more skilled on the harmonica, but only got to use it in a few blues songs – most of the time his role required him to be behind the organ. He did a credible job, though, and was central to filling out the band’s early sound, especially in ’66-‘67. He added a lot of color around the guitars, playing big sustained chords, little counterpoints to Garcia’s lines, rhythmic percussive chops, a few swirly fills here and there. Many times, of course, he would just repetitively vamp for a while; and often he seems musically out of sync with the others. But sometimes like in the winter ’68 tour, it’s surprising to hear him really engaging in the jams and even dueting with Lesh or Garcia. (It’s all the more impressive since he was really only interested in blues music, and must have felt lost in this endless psychedelic hogwash. But there he was.) Knowing he was no virtuoso, I think his organ-playing was meant to blend in with the guitars to create a big wash of sound – it wasn’t meant to stand on its own, and many of our SBD tapes do him a disservice, either by mixing him too high or by burying him.

In a long March ’67 interview, just before the Dead got into their heavy psychedelic-jam phase, Garcia talked about the other bandmembers.
On Pigpen: “He’s only been playing the organ as long as the band’s been together. He doesn’t really work at it too hard, not as hard as the rest of us do…but he has a good mind for phrasing, he’s got real clear ideas. And…he can always make a song nicer by the thing that he plays. He’s a real great supporting organist. He hasn’t got a real heavy chord background or anything like that, but he’s got a good mind for lines.”
Garcia observed that Weir was mainly into “the folk-blues coffeehouse thing… His whole approach to guitar playing is like Jorma’s essentially. Except he’s not as good as Jorma, of course. But his background is…that folky sort of light blues and a lot of full-voice chords and finger style. That’s the big thing he’s been into… Bob doesn’t play flat rhythm…he plays these other kinds of lines. He works out this very lovely kind of stuff most of the time.”

Since the coffeehouse days, Weir’s conception of guitar-playing had grown. Weir recalled in recent interviews, “When we were in the Warlocks, Phil turned me on to Coltrane and a bunch of classical music that had completely escaped me. That expanded my conception of what music could entail…”
“I learned by trying to imitate a piano, specifically the work of McCoy Tyner in the John Coltrane Quartet… I just loved what he did underneath Coltrane, so I sat with it for a long time and really tried to absorb it. Of course, Jerry was very influenced by horn players, including Coltrane, but I never really explicitly thought about that relationship; because I didn’t really ever decide to pattern myself after McCoy Tyner’s piano, it just grabbed me.”
“Another big reason for me not being repetitive is the influence of Jerry and, even more so, Phil, who never repeats anything. If no one else is repeating anything, I’ll be damned if I’m going to play the same thing over and over.”

Rather than straight chords, Weir came more often to play little fills, riffs and figures behind Garcia’s part. “I always played a lot of counterpoint in support of Jerry’s guitar or vocal melody… The concept of the band was always group improvisation, not merely playing behind Jerry’s solos. The Grateful Dead’s goal was to play together in a seamless mesh. We coined the term ‘rock & roll Dixieland’…”

Garcia in ’67 praised the way Lesh and Kreutzmann played: “Bill plays a little with everybody – like if I’m playing a line, he knows enough about my playing and my thinking (since we’ve been playing together for all this time), that he can usually anticipate the way I’ll think a line. And he’s a great rhythmic reinforcement for any line that I can play, not matter how it relates to the rest of the time going on. He also plays beautifully with Phil… And Phil’s way of approaching the bass is so utterly different than any other bass players, ‘cause he doesn’t listen to any bass players. He listens to his mind! And so the kind of lines he comes out with are so fantastic. He’s an amazing bass player. He plays with Bill a lot, and because of the way Phil plays, he makes it impossible for Bill to rely on a standard-type pattern.”

The Dead knew they were on to something - once they’d become skilled enough, early ’67 found them developing new and different ways to play the jams.
“We’re trying to think away from solo lines, from the standard routine of: these members comp, this member leads. We’re trying to think of ensemble stuff… In a standard rock & roll band, the way they work it is the bass & drums generally work together as a unit, like Motown records… What we’re trying to do is get out of that into where the rhythm is more implied and less obvious. Where it’s there all the time…heavy enough so that you can dance to it, but not everybody is playing on the two & four… The problems we’re having with all this is because all of us still think so musically straight – it’s difficult to get away from that; and it’s difficult to get used to not hearing the heavy two & four; it’s difficult to think rhythmically without having it there all the time; but we’re starting to develop that sense better… What we’re trying to do is free all ourselves from any of us having to comp, any of us having play flat rhythm… One of the tricks that we do is like eliminating the beat entirely, and all of us not playing it. Like we’re starting to use the space rather than the time…”

Garcia’s comments illustrate how ambitious the band felt:
“I think of myself as being a student guitarist – I’m trying to learn how to play. That’s the way I feel about it… What we’re trying to do now is expand ourselves musically, and that means to get into other things that haven’t been introduced into popular music…it’s difficult to explain. Our approach so far to all our music has been more or less intuitive… We’re someplace where we don’t know that anybody else is in the same place, so we don’t know what to do – there’s no one guiding us at this point, and we’re just left to our own devices. We realize that the one thing we have to do is to continue to grow as musicians, and to continue to expand our outlook on music…keep getting into it heavier and heavier so we can continue to do new things.”

All this, of course, required lots of rehearsal – and the Dead were more than willing to put in the hours of practice.
Lesh said, “The Grateful Dead used to practice all day, for years and years. Used to play every day, the whole band.”
Hart also recalled, “In the old days, we’d wake up every day and play… When we were at the Potrero Theater, we used to go in every day and play. We’d take a lot of psychedelics and play for long periods of time. We’d get into monstrous jams, truly monumental – they had a life of their own, and never lived again.”

Garcia said in 1966, “We try to rehearse every day…we try to put in about six hours a day.” And in 1967: “We put in about six, seven hours a day down at the studio – like going over material, working on new ideas or something like that, or just goofing off. And if we’re working a gig, then it’s the gig. Actually, the best practice there is is playing the gig.”

In 1968 they practiced at the Potrero Theater, an abandoned movie theater and “rat-infested dump” in San Francisco. Unfortunately, neighbors complaining about the noise eventually limited their rehearsal time; and once most of the band had moved out to Marin County, it was time to relocate; so in September they found a new practice space in Marin.
Lesh talks about the Potrero Theater rehearsals in his book (pages 131-132), and the excitement of working out exotic time signatures and new rhythmic transitions. Lesh in particular would become very intense and demanding during rehearsals: “I’d start yelling at the drummers, ‘Let’s do it again – right this time!’” As a result, the band “sat me down in a circle and asked me to back off a little from being so intense during rehearsals.”

Weir talked about that era in a 1992 interview:
“We were practicing a lot back then. We would practice seven days a week, many hours a day, at this old theater on Potrero Hill. We spent a lot of time there and put a lot of work into the music, so the music was complex… We were all listening to a lot of North Indian classical music at the time, so we were borrowing from their rhythmic structures a lot; or the drums would follow the lead line and we did a lot of odd time signatures, placing them against each other. It was really heavy mental stuff.
I can’t say I’m altogether sad that era ended because it was really complicated, and that complicated music didn’t come off more often than not. Usually it was sort of, ‘Nice try, guys.’ It wasn’t the kind of stuff that was easy to play and easy to lean into. It was real precise and real structured. That’s part of what made it ultimately kind of limiting. It wasn’t as open as it appeared.”
(From the perspective of later years, Weir was not so fond of difficult songs like New Potato Caboose: “In general the precise, heavily-arranged stuff has tended to dry up and blow away in our repertoire… Back then we could barely play it.”)

For Weir, the music was especially challenging: “When I first joined the band, I wasn’t a journeyman musician and I was barely able to hold down my position in the group... I was kind of in awe of these guys I was playing with - I really had almost no experience.”
“I didn’t have all that great a vocabulary as a guitarist at that point. And my role…was a fairly difficult one. Being in-between the lead and the bass and intuiting where the hell they’re going to go and being there. It took a while to work up a touch for that. I’d get hot and find myself moving pretty fluently in that role, then I’d lose my momentum and fall out of it. It’s a real difficult position to stay on top of.”
“When TC was playing with us was an era when the music was its most cumbersome. It was hard to turn the corner, because it was a little too outside. For me, nowhere could I find a handle on the drift, when it started to get spacy, well enough to intuit where it was going. It was accidental music…”

Weir may have been selling himself short, as he was able to grow with the music. In Tom Constenten’s view, “Weir is the easiest person I know of to underestimate… A lot of fine guitar technique only got displayed when Jerry broke a string.”
Years later, Garcia would be surprised by all the discoveries Weir made in his guitar-playing. “That’s his unique value – he’s an extraordinarily original player in a world full of people who sound like each other. He’s got a style that’s totally unique as far as I know. I don’t know anybody else who plays the guitar the way he does… I have a hard time recognizing any influences in his playing…even though I’ve been along for almost all of his musical development. I’ve been playing with him since he was 16 or so.”
One of the dynamics in the band was that Weir was the 'kid' in the bunch, and was frequently quite spaced out; so to some extent he always had to play catch-up with the others. David Nelson said, "I remember the first rehearsals at Dana Morgan's... Garcia was just railing on Weir. 'No, no, goon child! No, no, I told you a thousand times!' He'd be yelling about some passage in the song. 'Let's try it again!' But it was all very good-humored; everybody was laughing."

In 1968 the Dead were still a relatively new band, three years old. Weir had made huge advances in his guitar abilities in those years, but apparently not fast enough at the time for Lesh and Garcia. Lesh later realized, “Musically, we had come so far so fast that Jerry and I were trying to expand our musical language into new rhythmic and harmonics realms… The texture of Bobby’s rhythm playing was showing signs of his innate whimsical originality; unfortunately, neither Jerry nor I recognized this development for what it would become.”
Later on, they gained more faith in the process, and for an older band it was easier to stick together through the tough spots – but as young players, they had high standards for each other, and less regard for someone who wasn’t keeping up.

Pigpen was also earning their distrust in his reluctance to rehearse – it was sometimes hard to get him to come to all those practice sessions. Bob Matthews noticed, “He didn’t come to that many rehearsals.”
(Although this is a very early example, this Viola Lee rehearsal is a good illustration of Pigpen at work: though he starts off singing and playing organ and harmonica (!), he’s a bit the worse for drink and progressively drops out until he walks out of the rehearsal in track 18!) )
So the other bandmembers came to view Pigpen and Weir as underachievers who weren’t pulling their weight.

To further divide them from the others, both Weir and Pigpen avoided drugs.
Weir had actually stopped taking LSD regularly in August ’66: “I took psychedelics for about a year, from ’65 to ’66, and I was starting to get a little psychotic behind them – you know, hearing voices and stuff like that – so I figured it was time to back off… So I went entirely the other way and became a very strict macrobiotic guy for a while… It became something of a quest for a lot of folks [to dose me], but I stopped taking the stuff myself.”

And Pigpen had never been into acid or even pot. (Of course, such was Pigpen’s renown that after the pot bust in October ’67, the SF Chronicle used a menacing-looking picture of Pigpen to illustrate their “Pot Arrests” article…)
Laird Grant: “He didn’t smoke pot…he really didn’t like it. He didn’t like speed. He didn’t like psychedelics – in fact, basically he was very fearful of them, although he did get dosed a couple of different times.”
Jon McIntire: “I thought it was a drag that he drank so much… We were all convinced that we needed to turn on the world to acid. And if you were going to turn on the world, you certainly wanted to turn on Pigpen! But he didn’t like it; it scared the hell out of him. He didn’t like drugs at all, not any kind.”
Danny Rifkin: “He was definitely of a different consciousness than the rest of us. He never took dope. He was scared of it. The one time I know of that he got dosed [the 10/2/66 Acid Test], he went home saying, ‘I don’t feel well; I’m going home.” …None of us drank at all. Drinking was square – lame people did that… And the concern was that he wasn’t into psychedelics – he was doing this lame thing that turns you off.”
Eileen Law: “There was always a running joke: ‘Get Pigpen high!’”
Bob Weir: “We were all into fucking with each other, so dosing Pigpen fell into that category.”
Ken Babbs: “I know he didn’t like to perform on acid, and it got to the point where he was afraid of anyone giving him anything to drink.”
Bob Matthews: “Everybody else was always trying to get him to get high, and it just wasn’t what he wanted to do. He was happy with what he did. But there was a feeling that he was not participating… His contribution to the band was what it was, and it did not necessarily require that he be on the same wavelength as everybody else.”

In some ways, the band actually relied on Pigpen to be stable onstage. Even the endless repetitive riff he played in Dark Star was useful for them!
Rock Scully said, “Pigpen was our anchor. Now matter how screwed up we got on LSD and how crazy it was for us, you could always look to Pigpen to bring you down to earth and be there for you. Even musically, when the band was going way way out in Dark Star, they knew they could listen to Pig and have some sense of where they were. So he was reliable in that way – you knew he wasn’t seeing snakes.”
Weir agreed: “Somebody once described his keyboard playing as earthbound. But you know what, we played around those six notes [in Dark Star]…we’d take that and weave around it. It certainly wasn’t the wrong place for him to be.”
And Garcia felt the same: “He was our anchor. We’d be out of our minds…and we’d be tethered to Pigpen. You could rely on Pigpen for a reality check… He was like gravity.”

There was also the point that Pigpen’s songs were a huge and popular part of the stage show.
Constanten said, “When Pigpen fronted the band it became something else, because his thing was so cultivated and established in its own right that it became its own thing – sort of a psychedelicized blues band. I’ve heard it said that the Grateful Dead at that time was two bands: when Pigpen was fronting the band and when he wasn’t…”

But while Weir’s skills had grown since the Warlocks were formed, Pigpen seemed to be standing still – and the band grew more irritated about this.
Lesh wrote, “Jerry and I were operating in an acid-fueled collective mind-meld. We were so excited by this that we were ignoring the fact that Pig didn’t seem to be connecting with us on a musical level. As Jerry and I spun farther and farther out, we began to see Pig’s contribution more as an anchor than as a balance or ground.”

Danny Rifkin believed that “Pigpen was not really a keyboard player, and I can recall people complaining that he wasn’t evolving musically the way the rest of the band was; that he was kind of a drag on the band musically… He was a great blues singer, but he got lost as a player. I think he had a ceiling or limit in his ability as a keyboardist that he couldn’t get past... He couldn’t anticipate where the music was going. When it was his thing he did fine.”
Sue Swanson said, “I think they left him in the dust musically. He was in over his head on the keyboards – especially when the others really…got out there and he was drunk. I mean, how could he possibly follow? Obviously it was a source of some frustration.”

Jon McIntire summed up: “The real far-out spacy stuff wasn’t what Pigpen related to… In the beginning [Pig’s organ playing] was really imaginative and the tempos were good, and then, after a number of years…it was just not good playing. The timing was off. I think it led to a lack of musical communication.”
(McIntire felt this was mostly due to Pigpen’s drinking habit. The band themselves didn’t seem to think so. Weir said, “I think the drinking might actually have helped his performances,” and Garcia said, “He was never too drunk to perform.”)

One incident stuck with McIntire, a confrontation with Pigpen: “There was a band meeting in the middle of one of the recording sessions and they were attacking Pig. I think Jerry was furious with him about the music. They were saying, ‘You drink all the time. You just hang out. You’re zonking out in front of the TV all the time. You don’t do anything.’ And on and on… Pigpen would nod and say, ‘Yep, that’s who I am.’”

Weir also came in for his share of attacks. In McIntire’s view, “Musically, Bobby hadn’t yet taken the bull by the horns. Pigpen’s timing and pitch were off because of his drinking, but Bobby just hadn’t matured yet as a player.”
Rock Scully saw that “Garcia really loved him and respected him, even if they had their falling-outs. They had their tough moments…”
Jonathan Reister thought “Bobby was our little juvenile delinquent. Most of the band fights were about his guitar playing.”

Sue Swanson recalled, “It was never easy. Every day…there was always some kind of psychodrama going on at some level or other. One person was disagreeing with another, or they were going to fire Weir. Pig was not playing right, or somebody was being a motherfucker, or Billy was pulling some maneuver with the money. It was always something.”
One specific time in ’67 came to mind: “I can remember many times when one or the other of them was going to be fired from the band. They played up in Toronto for Expo ’67, and I remember during that week Bobby was supposed to be fired, but obviously it didn’t happen.”
Lesh also remembers this in his book, noting that the band was unhappy about their Toronto performance on 8/4/67: “Jerry and I started grumbling to each other about the music. With too many shows and not enough rehearsal, the music wasn’t moving forward to our satisfaction. Bobby, being years younger and a bit spaced, became our target. We confronted him after the show about working harder to keep up. The end result…we all played better the next night.”

Even from the audience, Sat Khalsa saw that “Jerry was enormously frustrated with Bobby. Bobby would get spaced out… When they would all be stoned together and really go out there, I would see Bobby standing on the stage not playing. Jerry would be taking off…and Bobby would be standing there, holding his guitar.”

Rock Scully has made some interesting claims about what the problem was. According to him, “Garcia said, ‘Bobby’s not playing electric guitar, and if I’m going to get good at my instrument…I need a solid, electric rhythm behind me.’ Which was weird because…Garcia developed his style from having to comp a lot of rhythm.” (This contradicts what Garcia said above about the role of rhythm in the Dead, though…)
Scully further says, “Between the two of them [Weir & Pigpen], we were just getting a lot of fill. We were getting a lot of mid-range mush. Phil Lesh had taken his instrument into a lead-bass-playing thing, and there was no bottom end. It was totally up to the drummers.” (I’m not sure this is what we hear on the tapes…)

In any case, in August ’68 Garcia came to a decision.


Rock Scully told the story:
“Jerry kind of put it on me to fire them. It was a totally musical decision. Bobby wasn’t progressing – he was still playing the electric guitar like an acoustic guitar, and Jerry was trying to get him to loosen up and be a rhythm guitar player. Bobby was still a student, but not listening. God knows what they thought was going to come out of it – we were recording in this studio down on the Peninsula [Pacific Recording in San Mateo]…
I don’t think that Pig, without being high on LSD, could quite understand the direction the music was taking. And their music did change a lot in that period. Jerry spent a lot of time trying to describe and explain where he thought the music was going – and so did Phil…
But if [the firing] had to happen, it came at a good time, because we were just sort of doodling in the studio. We weren’t making any money. We didn’t have any gigs booked, so there was really no loss, except emotionally. I was against it, but Jerry put it on me as the manager to do it. Phil was behind it, and so was Kreutzmann. But to fire nearly half your unit…”

As Garcia would demonstrate throughout his life, though, he was not up to dismissing people face-to-face.
As Scully recalled, “Garcia said, ‘Scully, you go fire them. I can’t work with them anymore.’ He wouldn’t do it. He had me do it.”
Jon McIntire thought, “It was totally in character that Garcia would ask Rock to do it rather than doing it himself… Garcia should have done that himself.”
Donna Godchaux would later say, “If there was something that Jerry did not want to get involved in, he would just be absolutely absentee. On a certain level, Jerry was very out-front and aggressive, but then when it came to certain things, he was very much a coward. I called him the Cowardly Lion.”

Lesh also remembered, “It seemed to be time for another confrontation, so Jerry suggested to me that we ask Rock to help us communicate our frustrations to the rest of the band. Rock’s solution: call a meeting of the band and lay everything out on the table. Despite Rock’s efforts to help us verbalize our feelings, neither Jerry nor I was very eloquent, and the meeting ended with everyone feeling bad, and with no resolution.”

The meeting took place near the end of August ’68 – remarkably, Owsley taped the meeting. (It seems the band had been listening to the Aug 23-24 shows at the Shrine, which had apparently been taped with an idea towards releasing a live album; but the band was unhappy with the shows and rejected them.)
The tape of the meeting reveals a very uncomfortable band having a hard time communicating. (I don’t know if Pigpen was even there.) Rock Scully was forced into the role of spokesperson.
Scully: “The situation as it exists right now, musically, depends on four guys. The weight is on four cats in this band, not six as the band is now formed. It seems like the music is being carried to a certain level, then staying there. I notice it mostly from the way you guys respond to your own music; and you guys tire of music that has much more potential, many more possibilities, too soon… It never gets any better. Matter of fact, it begins to get worse. Very fast, too fast for the material, because the material is complex and groovy and much further out than most music is these days…”
Garcia: “All you gotta do is listen to the tapes there and test them.”
Lesh: “You can’t really get but two or three of them on, man, even those are with reservation… So after this weekend, we decided that’s the end of that. No more.”
Weir didn’t respond.
Scully: “…It’s a week later and you still have no words. It doesn’t matter, that happens to be where you’re at.”
Garcia: “Asking him for explanations is like not where it’s at… Just the whole conflict is not where it’s at…”
Weir: “The idea of faction is not where it’s at… I’m losing control of words here…they are falling apart in my mouth. I’ve said all I can say for now…”
Scully: “You’d never have to say a word if it were in your music.”
Weir: “I’d never have to say a word if it was in the way I tied my shoes.”
Hart: “I think it’s time for me to make a motion. Unless anybody else wants to talk about anything.”
Weir: “A motion? What’s that?”
Hart: “Split… Not unless there is anything else on the agenda?”
Scully: “Well, we haven’t talked about anything more immediate than an EP and this record, really, in terms of Bob and Pig, and I think that you guys oughta make your intentions clear. You haven’t to them so far. You were planning to, Mickey, but you are now making a motion to adjourn something that was started and not finished.”
Hart: “I thought it was all just said.”
Scully: “No. You can’t just think those things, man, you have to say them when it’s this kind of scene.”
Garcia: “Well, here’s where it’s at, man. You guys know that the gigs haven’t been any fun, it’s been no good playing it, because we’re at different levels of playing, we’re thinking different thoughts and we just aren’t playing together…”
Lesh: “I really don’t want to work in that form, man… All four of us don’t want to work that way.”
Scully [to Garcia]: “Listen, man, why did you not correct him?… He’s speaking for all four musicians, Jerry…”
Garcia: “Oh, yeah, right.”

Though Lesh does seem to be giving an ultimatum here, it’s hard to say if this tape is a ‘smoking gun.’ I don’t think the firing took place then and there, for the band went on to play several shows at the end of the month – the Avalon on August 28, the Fillmore West on August 30-September 1, and Sept 2 at the Sky River Festival in Washington (a festival they went to on the spur of the moment, just because it sounded groovy). There was then a two-week break in shows, while recording sessions got underway at Pacific Recording. (There was supposed to be a show in San Jose with Frank Zappa in mid-September, but it was canceled at the last minute due to poor sales, according to McNally.)
The band also started recording their new album (then tentatively called Earthquake Country) in early September, but little is known about these early sessions except that they weren’t very productive. Recordings started with St Stephen, which obviously would have required Weir’s involvement. (The band partook in generous helpings of nitrous oxide and STP during the recordings, to make sure they were as impaired as possible. In October they managed to record Barbed Wire Whipping Party – not a promising start for the new album!)

That doesn’t look like the schedule of a band falling apart. It is possible that during September, though, as Scully says, the band decided to take the next step and kick out Weir and Pigpen. He tells a dramatic story:
“Pigpen took it very hard. It was horrible for him. He was crying about it later. I was really upset about it myself. I was upset with Jerry and Phil for making me do it – I thought it was something they should have handled. I think they meant it as a warning, [but it] turned into a weird event. I spent a lot of time with Pig through that period, because it was a number of weeks before he played with them again. What he did was he played the piano all day and all night. But I don’t think it was ever meant to stick. Bobby went off to practice, too, so they both took it to heart.”

The way Scully interprets it, the ‘firing’ was really more of a warning to get Weir & Pigpen to dedicate themselves more to the music. “Garcia knew what he was doing. He was just scaring their asses; rattling their cages. They took a couple of weeks off. Weir went and got some more electric guitar training. Pigpen had just moved to a Hammond organ, so he got some help from friends and learned how to play the foot pedals and how to expand his knowledge.”

Weir was asked in 1992 if he and Pigpen had actually been fired. “Oh yeah, for a few months. We were the junior musicians in the band, and Jerry and Phil in particular thought that we were sort of holding things back. The music wasn’t able to get as free because it was hog-tied by our playing abilities, which was kind of true. I guess that what they were headed towards was fusion jazz, though that hadn’t actually happened yet… It was complicated and required a great deal of facility on the instruments. So they played without us for a couple of months…
I worked on playing, because that’s still what I envisioned doing with my life. It wasn’t the best time of my life. I kept working on guitar and singing. I was thinking about [joining another band], but I figured first things first – I oughta woodshed a bunch. I spent the time doing that, and more or less not thinking about what I was going to do next, until I had woodshedded enough that I felt I had something…to bring to whatever I was going to move into next. I never did get to that plateau – I found myself back in the band…”

Jon McIntire heard an interesting story from Weir: “I wasn’t there, but I do know that Bobby was fired. Although the band at one point said Bobby wasn’t fired, he said, ‘I most definitely was.’ He left the room where he was fired and hitched a ride because he didn’t have a car and it had been raining and then the ride let him out and he stepped out and fell facedown into a ditch in the mud.”
McNally tells a different version of the story: On Weir’s 21st birthday (Oct 16), he was out of the band and had no ride. Pigpen called and invited him for a drink in San Francisco. While hitch-hiking to the bar, he fell into a rain-filled ditch.
(While something like this happened, I think it was only later that Weir connected it emotionally with being fired, as by mid-October he was regularly playing shows. Possibly, though, he was feeling insecure – we know Pigpen wasn’t playing shows at that point.)
Weir was living in Bill Kreutzmann’s garage at the time. In September the Dead had moved their rehearsals from the Potrero Theater in San Francisco to the Hamilton Air Force Base warehouse in Marin. Weir started living there, practicing guitar, “trying to stay out of the way,” and nursing vague plans to move to New Mexico.

Weir’s version that he was out of the band for “months” is quite curious. It couldn’t have been that long, but clearly the event had an impact on him. Scully only says, “They took a couple of weeks off.”
McNally says Weir and Pigpen simply kept playing shows. “No one had the heart to enforce the decision, and the two firees didn’t seem to understand that they’d been fired. The band continued to gig as the full six-man band.”
Garcia had a similar memory of the firing: “It didn’t take. We fired them, all right, but they just kept coming back.”

Although Weir suggests he was out of the band for quite a while, the show dates suggest otherwise. The only lengthy break in Dead shows comes between 9/2 and 9/20/68 – and as it happens, we have a ‘Hartbeats’ studio date from 9/21/68, with Garcia, Lesh, Hart, and a guest guitarist - no Weir or Pigpen. (Just a short Clementine jam from this session was played on the Taper’s Section.)
The 9/20 show has both Weir and Pigpen (and, frustratingly, both a short tape and a long drum solo). There are a couple more Dead shows we don’t have tapes for (9/22 and 10/5), and then the Avalon Ballroom run from 10/11-10/13, where Pigpen apparently didn’t play. While Weir was carrying on, this suggests that Pigpen was indeed out of the band at this point – I can’t think of another show from the year where he doesn’t even show up. Evidently, as Scully said, he took it harder than Weir did. (While these shows are highly regarded, partly due to the absence of Pigpen’s keyboard, they illustrate one trouble the Dead faced without him – they’re the only two back-to-back Dead shows I know of with identical setlists.)
We’re missing the next show (10/18), but 10/20 sees the triumphant return of Pigpen, dominating the short show with no less than three big numbers (Schoolgirl, Lovelight, and Caution).

While Garcia and Lesh downplay the event, Scully and Weir both say there was a definite firing in which Weir and Pigpen had to leave, which is hard to pinpoint. Possibly they’re exaggerating. The middle of September does seem like the most likely place for it to have happened - but then we have the mid-October Avalon shows without Pigpen.
The ‘firing’ may have been not so much a one-time event, as a feeling among everyone that Weir and Pigpen had to leave soon - but nobody wanted to force them out; so they just kept playing shows as usual while the band tried to figure out what to do.
This wasn’t an unusual strategy for the band. As Weir said, “We’re procrastinators. The bigger the problem, the greater the procrastination.” Lesh also confirmed, “Avoidance of confrontation is almost a religious point with us.”
So bad feelings just simmered for a couple months, through September and October, but no one would take action when the two outcasts kept showing up…

(There is an obvious parallel ten years later, when everyone wanted Keith & Donna Godchaux out of the band but no one would say anything, just suffering silently for months until they convened a meeting in February ’79.)

Some have speculated that there was no firing – even Scully admits that the episode was just meant to be a ‘warning’ to Weir and Pigpen to shape up. My feeling, obviously, is that there is just too much smoke for there not to be a fire. The ‘firing’ was a confused and ambiguous event at the time, and is even more so in people’s memories.
But even if we discount Rock Scully’s story entirely – both Garcia and Weir report that there was a firing (Weir feeling much more disgruntled about it) - Lesh writes cautiously that the band did consider dropping Weir and Pigpen - there’s the August tape in which the band is, at the least, unhappy with Weir - on top of the October shows in which Pigpen is uniquely absent - as well as independent journalists writing in ’69 confirming that Weir and Pigpen had almost left the band. (I’ll mention those reports later.)
This was something more than a stern finger-shaking.

The band’s disarrayal had one immediate result – they canceled their planned European tour of October ’68.
Jefferson Airplane was touring Europe in September (along with strange booking-mates the Doors), and the Dead intended to follow them. A series of October dates was set up with Warner Brothers and announced the month before (and published in Billboard). Ads were even printed for shows at the Roundhouse in London, October 11-12, with Fairport Convention!
The Dead had been thinking about a trip to Europe for some time. Ralph Gleason reported on March 13, 1968, that “it is hoped to organize a European tour later this year” (with help from the then-Carousel owner Bill Fuller, who also owned ballrooms in the UK). The March 9, 1968 issue of Rolling Stone said the Dead planned to tour in Europe in the spring (and, improbably, Japan and Australia as well) - but Rock Scully said the band needed to finish the Anthem album for Warner Brothers before they could go: “We’ve already spent $60,000 of Warner Bros money, and they want to see something for it.” This seems to be the roots of the planned October ’68 European tour, which fell through. Scully said later on, “We never did quite figure out how we would’ve paid for that trip, so we went back east instead. It sounded like a good idea at the time, though, and we promised ourselves that we would get to Europe someday…”

Of course, there could be any number of reasons the tour evaporated. The Dead themselves probably didn’t lose interest. Quite possibly Warners noticed that Anthem of the Sun wasn’t selling so well; or hearing that the third album sessions were off to a disastrous start, they decided not to finance the trip. The Dead were, after all, still in debt and sinking deeper. But it’s hard not to think the Dead’s internal dissensions didn’t have something to do with it as well. The Dead may have had a hard time convincing Warners that a tour of Europe was still a good idea when they were getting rid of their most popular member! (How would you sell Pigpen t-shirts in Europe with no Pigpen?)

So with Europe out of the picture, the Dead went in a new direction.


Tom Constanten: “[In] the period of Mickey Hart & the Hartbeats…I could see Phil and Jerry getting more into the modern jazz-type atmosphere of improvisation and musically interesting time signatures and rhythmic patterns, which is exactly what Weir and Pigpen were less into.”

The Hartbeats story is well-known, but it’s usually seen in terms of the Grateful Dead’s history. The Hartbeats shows, however, actually had no effect on the Dead’s career – the experiment was short-lived, and the Dead carried on as if the Hartbeats never existed. A couple years later they advertised some shows as the “Heartbeats” almost as an inside joke (much like the “Formerly the Warlocks” billing in ’89).
But when you look at Jerry Garcia’s history, the Hartbeats shows become very important, as the first of Garcia’s ongoing side-bands at the Matrix. Garcia was actually much more involved with the Hartbeats than Phil Lesh (who only infrequently came to the shows).

Garcia and Mickey Hart were from the start more keen on playing with other bands than the rest of the Dead. In the earliest non-Dead jam we have from 5/21/68, it’s Garcia and Hart who are playing in the all-star “rock jam” – in the “Donovan’s Reef” jam at Country Joe’s 1/11/69 Fillmore West farewell show, Garcia & Hart again represented the Dead – and when Jefferson Airplane played after the Dead at the 9/6/69 Family Dog show, once again it was Garcia & Hart who joined them in the end-of-show jam.
(In contrast, I’m not aware of Phil Lesh jamming with anyone outside the Dead at this time.)

In mid-1968, when rock trios like Cream and the Experience were overpowering audiences, Garcia and Hart even thought about doing a musical side-project with bassist Jack Casady.
Garcia recalled, “Me and Jack Casady and Mickey were gonna form a power trio one day… We actually got together one afternoon… We ended up with a tape that was about two and a half hours, and we played it ostensibly around the neighborhood, and everybody was really encouraging… We could kick some ass… I don’t know what the situation was, but it just sort of petered out.”
As it turns out, we actually have part of this tape, dated 7/28/68 – a half-hour jam based on the Airplane song 3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds. Though Garcia makes it sound like an attempt to be Cream, it’s very mellow and similar to the Hartbeats – indeed, it’s amusingly laid-back compared to live Airplane, and takes a while to find a groove.

When the Carousel Ballroom was open in spring ’68, Garcia had plenty of opportunities to jam with other San Francisco musicians, as the Carousel had many open jams to participate in.
5/21/68 was advertised as a “Rock Jam” benefit – featuring Garcia, Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Casady, Elvin Bishop, Steve Miller, and Mickey Hart (“and others”) – and we even have a partial tape. It’s quite interesting – our tape starts with an endless 53-minute jam where Garcia, Jorma, Jack & Mickey play on and on…Hart even gets a drum solo! They follow that up with a very slow Good Shepherd, Garcia playing lead (a full year before its Jefferson Airplane debut), which continues into another 11-minute jam.
And the following day, 5/22, a “Jam Session with Jerry Garcia and Others” was advertised at the Carousel, for those who hadn’t had enough the previous night!
And on 6/4, we see another benefit and another advertised Jam, with a bunch of San Francisco players from various bands billed. (Garcia, notably, is at the top of the list.)
As well, from May through June ’68, there was a “Tuesday Night Jam” at the Carousel – apparently any musicians could come and jam to their heart’s delight. Given that the Dead were in town most of the time during these months, it’s not hard to guess which Dead member was probably showing up every Tuesday night…
In June ’68, though, the Carousel closed, and dedicated jammers had to find other options. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that starting in July ’68, the Matrix started advertising Monday Night Jams… So when the Hartbeats formed, there was a perfect venue for them.

The Hartbeats were apparently conceived as a sideways solution to the Dead’s musical dilemma. With Weir and Pigpen still clinging on, how could the lead players explore the more challenging realms of music? Simply, they formed a separate band. While the Dead stumbled onwards, the Hartbeats would devote themselves strictly to freeform instrumental jams.
Lesh, though he’s seen as a prime instigator, was actually surprisingly unenthusiastic about the Hartbeats: “I only came out a couple times to play with the Hartbeats…the music didn’t feel right to me.”
Lesh says the idea for the band was Mickey Hart’s (as the name suggests). But when asked about it decades later, Hart’s memory was vague: “It was sort of weird. I think Jerry was fighting with Bob, and Pigpen did something…I can’t remember what it was. You know, everybody fights. I think Bob and Pig were on the shortlist at that time… We [the Hartbeats] just wanted to play instrumental music; we didn’t want to play Grateful Dead music.”
Actually, they play lots of Dead themes – at times, these Hartbeats shows sound more like Grateful Dead rehearsals than the free-ranging explorations they were supposed to be. But it varies – we also get some unusual improvisations, and lots of 12-bar blues.
(Hart also had a fond, if vague, memory of the shows: “We were just scalping [the audience]…they couldn’t believe it. They couldn’t get up, and they thought they’d die.” Which is hard to tell from the music…)

Some have speculated that the Hartbeats gave the Dead an opportunity to audition for a new guitar player to replace Weir. (We do have that snippet of a studio jam from Sept 21 with a mystery guitarist in place of Weir.) But this is not evident in the shows we have, and I think it quite unlikely that this was their purpose. Lesh, remember, didn’t even show up many times - Jack Casady frequently played bass for the Hartbeats, and the Dead were hardly looking for a new bass player!
The only outside guitarist we know of at the Hartbeats shows was Elvin Bishop – who had his own band and style, and seems hardly likely to fit into the Dead. (The contrast between Garcia’s segments and Bishop’s segments of the Hartbeats shows is quite jarring.) It’s notable that the Hartbeats music with Garcia ranges from Dead themes to blues songs to pure jams; but when Elvin steps in, it sticks mainly to the blues.
Even when Elvin came onstage with the Dead at the Fillmore in June ’69, it was to replace Garcia (they did not play together), and he still played strictly blues songs with them rather than attempting the Dead’s more original material.

(The Hartbeats may have provided some inspiration to another new band. While Jack Casady played in the Hartbeats, he was also thinking of starting a side-group with Jorma Kaukonen – drummer Joey Covington says that in October ’68, when he met them, “Jorma and Jack were already planning to try their own thing.” They had their chance in January 1969, when Jefferson Airplane weren’t touring due to Grace Slick’s troubled throat; so the two started playing their own shows at the Matrix, and soon became known as Hot Tuna.)

The billing for the first Hartbeats shows, October 8-10, actually came about as a result of a promoters’ dispute. Peter Abram recalled, “It would have been called Grateful Dead Jam or something like that, but Chet Helms got freaked out because he was having them at the [Avalon] the following weekend [October 11-13] and he insisted that they not play.” So it was decided that they could play - as long as they weren’t advertised as the Grateful Dead.
The first Hartbeats shows on Oct 8-10 were billed on the Matrix poster as “Jerry Garrceeah (Garcia) & His Friends”; but Ralph Gleason listed the shows as “the Grateful Dead & Elvin Bishop” in the San Francisco chronicle (apparently he hadn’t gotten the word!). Garcia announced the band in the first show as “Mickey Hart & the Hartbeats”. So it was evidently undecided just how this band would present itself…
Actually, the Hartbeats name wasn’t publicly used until the next year – in ’68, they were generally just billed as “Garcia & Friends”. (Later on, the Dead would occasionally use the Hartbeats name to play small shows when they couldn’t contractually advertise themselves as the Dead.)

We’re fortunate in that Matrix owner Peter Abram taped all the Hartbeats shows; but only some of the tapes survive, so we have an incomplete record…

The first Hartbeats show starts with Garcia introducing the audience to “the wonderful world of tuning.” He warns them, “Everybody sitting close to the front of the stage, I’d like to caution you about Mickey, ‘cause he spits frequently.” They start playing Clementine, only to stop after a few minutes as Garcia worries, “My amplifier’s just disappeared…the light’s gone out; that means the amplifier isn’t working now, and that means we’re washed up.” But it’s just a false alarm, and they carry on with Clementine. This jams into a series of Dead tunes – Eleven>Death Don’t Have No Mercy, followed by a long Seven and Dark Star>Cosmic Charlie. (When the audience claps after the Seven, Garcia says “Don’t bother!”)
There is a dispute about who’s playing bass here. Latvala said that the Vault reels were marked, “first and second sets with Casady, then Elvin Bishop & Casady.” But listening, it sounds like the first set with the Dead tunes is with Phil Lesh; after Cosmic Charlie, Casady replaces him for some looser jams. (If it was Casady in the first set as well, he’d be very familiar with the Dead’s tunes, expertly navigating the Eleven and the Seven; so my bet is on Lesh.)
After Garcia and Casady jam for a while, ‘Set 3’ starts with Garcia asking, “Elvin here? We’ll let Elvin play. This guy who’s been playing bass here is Jack Casady. This band is called Mickey Hart & the Hartbeats.”
Elvin Bishop comes on: “Where can I plug my amplifier in?”
Garcia leaves the stage (there may have been only one guitar amp available), and Elvin plugs in. “Hello, my name’s Elvin Bishop, and my band was supposed to be playing tonight, but we had a little trouble, one of the members didn’t make it; we’re just gonna sort of be jamming…”
He plays a few instrumental tunes. I think this has to be with Elvin’s regular bass & drum players, not Hart & Casady, as these sound pretty rehearsed.
Before Baby Please Come Back (aka “Prisoner Blues”), Elvin asks, “Mickey, want to do a few numbers after this one?” After the song, he invites him on: “Mickey? A little jamming?”
Finally after the last jam, Elvin asks, “Anybody else wanna come up and play?” But the tape ends there.
This show is in the Vault.

The use of so much Dead material in these shows is interesting. When left to themselves without guests, the Hartbeats more often than not tend to play the same tunes they were playing in Dead shows – it’s somewhat ironic to hear them trying out the Other One or Lovelight without Weir or Pigpen. The effect is like listening to a Dead practice session where Weir hasn’t shown up, as if it was Garcia and Lesh who had to brush up on their playing!
Since we’re missing so many 1968 shows in any case, it’s hard to say how rare some of these pieces were. Clementine, for instance, isn’t heard in any Dead shows between February ’68 and January ’69, but evidently they were playing it sometimes. The Seven also doesn’t turn up in a Dead show until 9/29/69, but they must have jammed on it now and then. (Its earliest appearance was actually in the 5/21/68 “rock jam” benefit, where Garcia plays it in the first jam!) In the next Hartbeats show, It’s A Sin turns up, which had been played in early ’66 but doesn’t show up again until April ’69. Cosmic Charlie was, of course, a brand-new song, apparently not played by the full Dead until January ’69.

No tape circulates.

Although deadlists and the Taping Compendium suggest that Jack Casady played this night as well, there are two problems with that. For one, Casady played with Hendrix over at Winterland that night (though only for a couple songs in the second set). Also, the bass-playing through this whole show sounds like Phil Lesh to me. (As well, Latvala makes no mention of Casady being listed on the Vault reel.)
There’s no Elvin Bishop this night, but we still get our dose of the blues – after the long opening jam, Garcia sings It’s A Sin, and then asks, “Does anybody want to come up here and sing a song or something? Not you… Hey, Marvin’s here – Marvin, do you have a harmonica, would you like to sing?”
They search for a harmonica, and Marvin comes on to blow through a few standard blues tunes. Once he’s off, another long jam ensues with many New Potato Caboose teases. Then we’re back into the regular Dead repertoire, with a Lovelight jam>drums>Alligator-type jam>Other One>Death Don’t Have No Mercy. (Mickey even plays some glockenspiel here.) The show finishes with a Dark Star>Eleven>Seven.
This show is in the Vault.

There is also a tape dated 10/21/68 – but it’s a mislabel for 12/16/68. (To confuse things, the 10/28/69 Airplane House tape has also circulated under this date. At any rate, there was no Hartbeats show on 10/21.)
The Hartbeats returned to the Matrix at the end of the month for three shows on October 29-31, listed in the paper as “Jerry Garcia & Friends”.
We have just one show from this run – but curiously, Latvala said of the tapes, “There are two dates, 10/28 and 10/29, both of which have four reels. [There’s also] 10/30.” This strongly indicates that there are more Hartbeats shows in the Vault than we’ve heard.

No tape circulates.

Phil Lesh plays this date. The show starts with a strong Dark Star, which segues into Death Letter Blues. (This is the only version we have of Garcia singing the Son House song, but it sounds like they’d played it before.)
Garcia explains, “I might explain that we’re really here just goofing, we don’t really have anything in mind… We’re just thrown together by fate…we’re playing fate music...”
They explore the Other One for a while (which cuts); then after some Stephen riffs, they try out Lovelight (all instrumental, of course!). After a long pause, Clementine is played at length (unfortunately Garcia still doesn’t sing it, but they stay very close to the usual arrangement, so it sounds almost like a backing-track). They round out the Dead-song medley with another Eleven>Death Don’t Have No Mercy.
Garcia asks, “Where’s Elvin?” Elvin slips on quietly, and they enter a nice laid-back instrumental in which Elvin plays lead while Garcia backs him; later Garcia takes a solo. (I’m sure this is a familiar instrumental that Elvin did regularly, but I don’t know the name.) Elvin stops playing for a bit, and the Hartbeats carry on the jam. When Elvin comes back, he starts up a blues instrumental in which he trades lines with Garcia.
Garcia asks Elvin, “You got a vocal mike for over that end? Elvin’s gonna sing one.” Elvin sings Baby Please Come Back again, and Garcia and Elvin take turns soloing. Then Elvin leaves, and a cut takes us into a free jam based on the Clementine bridge. When it ends, the audience claps, and Garcia says, “That’s not necessary, you don’t really have to. We’re here primarily to screw around – don’t expect anything that isn’t screwing around. Everything we’re doing is screwing around, unless otherwise stated in advance.” After a long break, our tape ends with a long Dark Star with Jack Casady on bass (which cuts off).
This show is in the Vault.
(note: track 10 is a pause between jams; track 11 is Clementine; track 14 is not Prisoner Blues)

No tape circulates.

There are no further Matrix shows until December. The two we have, from close to Christmas, have marked differences from the October shows – for one, no Dead material is played. Latvala said that the Vault tapes of 12/16 are marked “Hartbeats at the Matrix,” but that begs a question. Are these December events at the Matrix actually the Hartbeats? Since Garcia & Hart are the only ones who came, then I would say not - these are just regular Matrix jam sessions. The indication, in fact, is that the original Hartbeats experiment was limited to October only. (The Dead, though, may have come to regard any such jam session as a “Hartbeats” show, since the name was a joke in the first place!)

No Phil Lesh or Bill Kreutzmann on this night – Garcia, Hart, and Jack Casady play with a couple guest drummers.
The first long jam starts as a slow blues, with Hart & Spencer Dryden on drums. It almost dissolves in the middle; then Casady starts a new groove. The jam gets abstract, and finally starts heating up, until near the end they’re rocking out. (Garcia plays a familiar tune I can’t place, at the 40-minute mark.)
The second jam has Hart & David Getz on drums – this is one of the most notable jams in this series, moving through several distinctive, memorable themes and some dramatic buildups. There’s even a little 1973-style feedback meltdown in the middle; a swooping Fire on the Mountain-style theme emerges after 26 minutes, and Garcia breaks out the China Cat riff 32 minutes in.
(The embryonic-Fire chord sequence Casady plays is sometimes thought to be taken off the bass riff in Pharaoh Sanders’ The Creator Has A Master Plan, which was in turn based on Coltrane’s Love Supreme. I think it’s doubtful, but it would be a nice connection: )
This show is in the Vault. Deadlists notes that there’s no evidence of this show in the SF Chronicle listings. It’s possible that our tape is a misdate of the 12/23 show – but the 16th would have been the usual Monday Night Jam at the Matrix, so I’ve left it under this date.

There were a couple more Matrix jams the following week, listed in the Chronicle as a free “Jam Session with Jerry Garcia, Jack Casady, and others.”

No tape circulates.

This is very different in feel from the earlier Matrix shows – in fact, it’s an entirely different band. Latvala said the Vault tapes are labeled as Garcia jamming with the Harvey Mandel band, so this is a rare chance to hear Garcia in a different rock-band context. The jams here are much heavier and more Rock-oriented than the Hartbeats’ looser improvs; and Garcia certainly lets loose in this environment.
Harvey Mandel, a Matrix regular, wasn’t really associated with any of the San Francisco bands at the time (though he had been in Charlie Musselwhite’s band, and was to join Canned Heat in 1969) - but just to judge from this tape, he was quite the guitarist. (As for the rest of the band, Stephen Miller is on keyboards and singing; George Chambers is probably on bass; and I don’t know who’s drumming, but it’s definitely not Hart. Some say that Elvin Bishop sings; but I’m doubtful of this, since the only guitar players are Garcia and Mandel. I also think it’s unlikely that Casady is on bass here.)
Our tape gets off to a flying start with a long (36-minute) intense, hypnotic drone jam, similar to some of the jams Hendrix was doing. Garcia and Mandel solo continously throughout over a keyboard backing, Butterfield Band-style - though the Taping Compendium dismisses this as “tedious,” I found it to be a highlight.
Then we get a few generic blues-rock numbers. (Mandel takes the solo in Feel It; Garcia and then Mandel solo in Three O’Clock.) Mojo Worker leads into another long, 20-minute meandering jam in which Garcia & Mandel trade solos. (This seems to keep going long after it should have sputtered out, but ends quite nicely.)
The end of the tape is an incomplete jam (minus Garcia) that sounds like a completely different audience recording, and may come from a different Mandel band performance.
This tape has to stand for the many nights where Garcia must have jammed with other bands at the Matrix, that we don’t even know about…
This show is in the Vault. (But it’s not on the Archive, as it’s usually found with Garcia’s shows.)

There’s also the “Parrish mystery fragment” (which is not on the Archive) - this has a couple incomplete jams supposedly dated “11/1/68”. Unfortunately the tape is in very poor, muffled sound.
The first jam (13 minutes long, which cuts off) is an interesting Garcia/Casady improv that’s not based on a Dead theme or duplicated on our other Matrix tapes; so it must be from one of the missing shows.
The long second jam is a duplicate of the 12/16 jam with David Getz.

The Hartbeats saga, surprisingly, didn’t end in ’68. In February ’69, the SF Chronicle listed a couple more “Mickey Hart & the Heartbeats” shows at the Matrix:
Frumious Bandersnatch was also playing the Matrix those nights. Nothing is known of these shows. The Chronicle listing specified Hart, Garcia, Lesh, and Kreutzmann (aka Bill Sommers) as the Heartbeats members, which would have tipped off any Dead fans among the paper’s readers. But it’s baffling why, when the ’68 crisis was long since over and they were about to record some Fillmore West shows for the live album, the Hartbeats would want to play another Matrix show without Weir, Pigpen, or even Lesh’s friend Tom Constanten…
Unless, in fact, the whole band was there after all. They could not advertise these as “Grateful Dead” shows, per the contract with Bill Graham, since this was just before the Fillmore run. Nonetheless, the use of the Heartbeats name suggests to me the expectation of a loose jam, such as they’d recently played at the 2/19 ‘Celestial Synapse’ show, rather than using a Matrix show as a ‘warmup’ for the Fillmore shows.
Public rehearsal? Jam session? Unknown special guest? No-show? Speculations are here:

Garcia no doubt slipped into many Matrix jams over the next year; but since most Matrix tapes either don’t survive or don’t circulate, it’s an invisible trail. We would never guess that, for instance, he played in a bluegrass show at the Matrix in February ’69, if a tape hadn’t surfaced of the bluegrass band High Country (mistakenly dated 2/19/69):

Nor was the Matrix the only place to jam. Another Hartbeats show surfaces later in 1969, at the Family Dog:
Bear taped the show, and labeled the cassette “Hartbeats”. The guest of honor this time was Howard Wales. (An unknown flute player also appears.) The Hartbeats at this show were Garcia, Lesh, Hart & Kreutzmann again. After Garcia sings It’s A Sin and Hi-Heeled Sneakers, they get down to business with a long Dark Star>jam>Eleven>Dark Star. Wales has no hesitation in taking the lead, pushing the others to keep up. (The tape is mixed poorly at first, in mono with Wales very loud, but it finally clears up 22 minutes into Dark Star.)
At that point Howard Wales was still in the band AB Skhy, but he must have already struck Garcia’s fancy. This is the first known time he jammed with the Dead, though there may have been earlier jams. This show was apparently not advertised or listed anywhere, and it’s been speculated that this was an unbilled afternoon jam session at the Family Dog:
However, it does sound like a fair-sized crowd applauding at the end, when Garcia says, “Thank you very much, folks, that’s gotta be all for tonight.” So I do think it was an evening show. Since it wasn’t advertised in advance, audience expectations were lowered; only the interested members of the Dead needed to come; and they had the freedom to experiment with a loose jam – hence, a Hartbeats show. Lacking tapes, there might be other Hartbeats appearances that year we don’t know about, hidden in vacant dates at the Family Dog or the Matrix.

The Family Dog on the Great Highway had opened just a couple months before, and in a meeting there on August 19, Garcia had specifically requested that it be made available for ‘unofficial’ jam sessions. (“Nights? Nights?” he said. “What about during the day? We got musicians running around looking for a place to jam – why not here?”) Which opens the possibility that any number of afternoon jams could have taken place at the Family Dog – but so far, we’re not sure that any did.

Of course, by August ’69, Garcia, Lesh and Hart had already joined a side-band, the New Riders, which was to frequently play with the Dead (in fact, they also played on 8/28). Though the style was quite different from the Hartbeats, what’s interesting is that the lineup is very much a quasi-Hartbeats band. (Just a year after getting on Weir’s case about not keeping up with their psychedelic excursions, they now found themselves in a drippy country-rock band!) By 1970, though, the balance had shifted a bit, as Lesh dropped out of NRPS, and Weir started dropping into their sets.
The other interesting thing is that the next Hartbeats shows also involved the New Riders, and a completely different definition of the “Hartbeats” name.

From April 17-19, 1970 at the Family Dog, the full Dead played shows with NRPS where they advertised themselves as “Mickey Hart & His Heartbeats (Bobby Ace & His Cards From the Bottom of the Deck)”.
Though the shows are lost, fortunately setlists were kept, and it looks like these were actually long acoustic sets. (They were included in my acoustic-sets post.) Weir of course sang a number of songs – although it’s odd that he was listed separately on the poster! (Someone may have remembered that the Hartbeats, after all, had originally been formed to exclude him…) Even more surprisingly, Pigpen sang five songs in a row on the last two nights.
Far from being experimental, the songs they did were familiar from their previous acoustic sets. Earlier, their acoustic sets had been short affairs stuck in-between two electric sets. But by mid-April, the Dead had decided that they would now do longer, separate acoustic sets (and they were probably also planning the May tour with NRPS). So the idea for these Hartbeats shows was apparently to publicly try out their entire acoustic repertoire, perhaps with Nelson & Dawson sitting in, as preparation for expanding the acoustic sets. It seems to have worked well – except in the case of Pigpen, who hardly ever performed even two acoustic songs in a show again!
Being billed as the “Heartbeats” served two purposes – for one, they didn’t need to play a whole “Grateful Dead” show to demanding fans, but could rehearse something off the beaten path. And more practically, they had just played a run at Bill Graham’s Fillmore and Winterland, and so were probably contractually obliged to use an alternate identity for these Family Dog shows…

That same week in April saw another turning-point. The next day, on 4/20/70, Garcia played his first listed show with Howard Wales at the Matrix. Most likely Garcia had often been dropping in on the Monday Night Jams at the Matrix; and something clicked between him and Wales.
As Wales described it, “The Matrix was always like a king-sized jam session. We had all sorts of people coming in and out – Elvin, Harvey Mandel, and Jerry of course. Anybody who was around there came down to play. Mostly it was just jamming and free-form spontaneity. And there were some incredible nights there. Later it solidified and we played more of my own material, but in the beginning it was real loose.”
With this far-out free-jazz organ player, Garcia could finally play the challenging explorations he had envisioned back in October ’68. Rather than nursing Weir along, he would be the one trying to catch up to a more advanced player. “Sometimes Howard would do these things that were so outside that you just couldn’t – unless you knew where it was going, you had no idea where to start,” Garcia said. “John [Kahn] and I would plug in and play with Howard and spend all night muttering to each other, ‘What key are we in?’ Howard was so incredible, and we were just hanging on for dear life…we were just keeping up. Howard was so outside. For both of us that was a wonderful experience… Playing with Howard did more for my ears than anybody I ever played with, because he was so extended and so different. His approach was all extensions and very keyboardistic, not guitaristic.”
For the rest of the year, Garcia returned to the Matrix every Monday he could – and even when Wales dropped out of the jams, Garcia lost no time in looking for another jazzy keyboard player. He had, as it were, found himself a permanent Hartbeats.

With this new avenue for jamming available, there would seem to be no further need for any actual Hartbeats shows. And yet…
That summer, newspaper readers would have found an ad for “Mickey Hart & the Hartbeats with Jerry Garcia,” playing at the Matrix on July 27-28, 1970.
Nothing is known about these shows, and they remain a complete mystery. I will write more about them in a later post.

For now it’s time to head back to the band crisis of 1968 and see how things turned out…


Since most of our knowledge of the firing comes from a few vague and distant memories, it’s hard to say how much of it was known to outsiders at the time. But it was reported. Two journalists the next year wrote that Weir and Pigpen had almost left the Dead.

Michael Lydon traveled with the Dead in May ’69 to write an article on them for Rolling Stone: “The Dead have had endless personal crises; Pigpen and Bob Weir have particularly resisted the others. Pig because he is not primarily a musician, and Bob because of an oddly stubborn pride. Yet they have always been a fellowship: ‘Our crises come and go in ways that seem more governed by the stars than by personalities,’ says Bob. A year ago Bob and Pigpen were on the verge of leaving. Now the Dead, says Phil, ‘have passed the point where breaking up exists as a possible solution to any problem. The Dead, we all know, is bigger than all of us.”

Robert Christgau wrote an interesting piece for the New York Times in July ’69, saying:
“Weir and Pigpen did not [contribute], and soon it was reported that they were leaving the band. Musically, this made sense, but because the Dead was also a spiritual unit, it was distressing. Then it was revealed that this was a breakup with a difference: two groups would result but the new one, to be called the Pigpen Revue, would tour with the Dead. It never did happen, partly because the group, which is always in debt no matter how much money it earns, couldn’t handle the finances. When the Dead appeared here [in New York] last February, Tom Constanten was on organ. But Pigpen was onstage too, banging inaudibly on a set of bongos and singing or blowing mouth-harp sometimes. The Dead wouldn’t have been right without Pigpen to root them to the ground, and they knew it.”
(I’ve never read about the proposed “Pigpen Revue” elsewhere - unless Christgau was misinformed, it’s another mystery of this period. He was partly right, though, in that a second group did result (the Hartbeats), and a new Dead offshoot would soon tour with the Dead – though it wasn’t Pigpen’s band.)

Lesh thought the Hartbeats “never really worked right… [The Dead] wasn’t working right with [Pigpen & Weir], and it wasn’t [working] without them.”
Having looked at an alternate Dead future without them, it no longer seemed so rosy. “Eventually realizing our mistake…we quietly left the Hartbeats behind. We knew that the band worked best with all of us playing.”
In short, the Dead changed their minds. “We realized the importance of Bobby’s and Pig’s contributions,” Lesh concluded.

McNally says that even in December ’68, “there was talk of David Nelson replacing Weir,” but by then the crisis had died down. The original Hartbeats shows had come to an end, and a new member was now in the band who’d been invited specifically for his avant-garde qualities.
Not that things were entirely peaceful. After Tom Constanten joined the band, he observed, “There was so much sniping going on. There was always some sort of simmer.” He considered himself a kind of “unwitting glue to divert attention to allow [Weir and Pigpen] to solidify their positions.”

Weir later said in ‘92, “I don’t remember exactly how we were eventually invited back into the band… After a while of playing without us, I guess they decided maybe it wasn’t as full without us… I think maybe they’d had enough of the insane complication. Or maybe they just felt their way into a more straightforward approach to the music with the two of us back.”
(It actually took a while for the Dead to adopt ‘a more straightforward approach’, as their sets remained aggressively weird for months.) In any case, Weir could no longer remember what it was like to be welcomed back into the fold. “Let’s see…what was it like… Being back in the band I more or less had nothing to lose. They could fire me again, but I’d seen that elephant, and it wasn’t unthinkable for me.”

Weir diligently continued practicing the guitar. It was notable, though, that he had no songs to offer for Aoxomoxoa. As a songwriter, Weir didn’t have much to contribute to the early Dead. He had a little burst in late ’67 with the Other One and Born Cross-Eyed – the Other One of course took on a life of its own, but Born Cross-Eyed lasted only a few months at live shows, as Weir became dissatisfied with it.
He said in December ’68, “My songwriting career has been slowed up because I can’t think of any decent words to sing. That’s kind of gotten to me after the last album… You’ve written a song, you hear it on the album, and the words are so nada. They don’t really say anything…and they could be ever so much more.”
This may be disingenuous… Weir was not a natural songwriter, and he completely dried up for a couple years, writing nothing between Born Cross-Eyed in late ‘67 and Sugar Magnolia in mid-1970. McNally suggests that the criticism from Lesh and Garcia shut him down - it may also be that, like Garcia, he preferred to have another lyricist work on the words, but at the time Hunter was ‘taken’ by Garcia.

As for Pigpen, years later Garcia had only gentle thoughts. “My memory of it is that we never actually let him go; we just didn’t want him playing keyboard, because he just didn’t know what to do on the kind of material we were writing. It seemed like we were heading someplace in a big way, and Pigpen just wasn’t open to it. It’s not that he couldn’t have cut it; he actually could have dealt with it. He had the musicality to deal with it…he was innately musical.
But you know, the other thing is we were sort of off on a false note… We were doing something that was forced; it wasn’t really natural. We were doing music that was self-consciously weird. If we had paid more attention to Pigpen, it probably would have saved us a couple of years of fucking around.”
[I love how he sums up ’67-69 as “fucking around”!]

Ken Kesey felt the same way: “I think people tried to make-believe there was some sort of gap between Pigpen and the others. I think [now]…he would feel like they have caught up to him, not the other way around. His music was very natural. It took the rest of the band a long time to be as natural-feeling as he started out with.”

Garcia admitted, “Pigpen influenced a lot of what we were doing just because of who he was. The music had to be structured within his ability; if we came up with anything that was too complicated for him, he’d lay out.”
Lesh said, “It was OK for Pigpen to lay out. We kept wanting Pigpen to be there because he was one of us…But he would lay out and that was OK. He didn’t mind; we didn’t mind… I don’t think he ever got pissed off because we wanted somebody who could play keyboards, because that wasn’t really his forte.”

In November ’68, Lesh and Garcia decided to ask Tom Constanten to join the band, since he would soon be out of the Air Force. (This was not discussed with the rest of the band.)
Constanten had been on their minds for some time - he had played shows with them before, and had much to offer in the Anthem of the Sun recordings. According to TC, Garcia had said to him back during the Anthem sessions, “I think we can use you.”
As Lesh says, he was taken on “as an addition, not to replace Pigpen.” (Pigpen is, in any case, nearly inaudible in our last tapes that have him on organ.)

When Constanten joined, there was a brief, unusual phase of Dead shows that sadly didn’t get onto surviving tapes. “There was one exquisite gig in Cincinnati [11/24/68, TC’s second show] where both Pigpen and I played keyboard. He had the B-3 and I had the Continental. The B-3 got repossessed because they didn’t pay the guitar bill or something, so I had to play the Continental…”
Lesh also remembers this tour as having both Pigpen and Constanten on organ, “giving the band a rich, strange sound.” According to Constanten this didn’t last long, as “about the same time as I joined the band, the Hammond organ that Pigpen had been playing got repossessed.” I don’t know if they had any more two-organ shows in ’69 – it’s possible: McNally claims Pigpen had an organ repossessed from the stage at a San Francisco show in the fall of ’69, and Lesh agrees that this happened in December ’69. But as it turned out, they wouldn’t pursue the double-keyboard sound again until spring ’72.

Constanten actually had a higher opinion of Pigpen’s keyboard-playing than the others did. “On the tunes he did play on, he played more than I usually played… I wanted to make sure I put in things that were workable…” TC even adopted some parts that Pigpen had played: “I copped some of his lines where they seemed to be part of the piece. [Such as Pigpen’s infamous Dark Star riff.] He was pretty good actually; his playing was commensurate with the type of music he was playing… If anything, I was trying to pick up on some of the stylistic things he was doing, ‘cause…we came from such different traditions. Beyond that, [not playing organ] freed him up as a vocalist. He could stand up front with a microphone, which he was really good at, and to judge from appearances, he liked.”

But not every song found Pigpen up front with the microphone, and audiences noticed his demotion. Ralph Gleason observed in 1969, “Pigpen no longer plays the organ. Tom Constanten does that while Pig stands behind a conga drum…”
Jon McIntire said, “I think his reaction was denial. Pigpen was relegated to the congas at that point, and it was really humiliating and he was really hurt, but he couldn’t show it, couldn’t talk about it.”
Constanten disagrees: “I don’t think [Pigpen] felt that threatened by me… After all, the interpersonal dynamics among the players were already strange enough without worrying about [me]… I never felt any professional jealousy in that situation; it seemed much more like brotherhood and connection. If he did feel jealous, he concealed it well.”
I would agree with TC’s thoughts here, since he became one of Pigpen’s closest friends. Sue Swanson thought, “It probably hurt his feelings a little bit, but then it might also have been something of a relief. I mean, he was not stupid. He knew his playing was not keeping up.”

With Constanten now in the band, Pigpen didn’t play at all on Aoxomoxoa, and preferred to stay out of the studio.
Rock Scully said, “The diminished role in the studio probably didn’t hit him that hard, because he had such a huge role in the show at that point and he was so loved by the community. Wherever we went, Pigpen’s songs were the most popular part of the show.
In the studio, he was always a little reticent…the studio was not his forte… He was kind of complaining in the studio… He didn’t dig the atmosphere. He’d find a couch and hang there until he was needed… I think he was bored there.”

Garcia still considered Pigpen an important part of the show, though. According to Constanten, “I think Jerry did some things to make Pigpen feel included, like featuring his songs and encouraging him. The perception I had was that Jerry was always encouraging him, and he felt that Pigpen’s thing should have a platform in the band’s context.”

At this point, now that he was on keyboards, Constanten ran into more opposition than Pigpen did. He sometimes found himself the target of the band’s ire. There were apparently frequent bickerings over him – on the one hand, like Pigpen and to some extent Weir, Constanten refused to take LSD (thus making an enemy of Owsley). On the other hand, musically he was more aligned with Lesh and Garcia, who were his ‘sponsors’ and had invited him into the band without any discussion with the others. “It’s not too hard to imagine band discussions in my absence where Phil’s was the lone voice…on my behalf.”
He was frequently stuck on the “thin and nasal-sounding” Vox organ, as the band had trouble affording to keep a Hammond - and when he had the Hammond, it had too few Leslie speakers to be heard. Plus, “the whole time I was with the band I had no instrument at home to practice on… Problems with banks prevented me from getting a piano.”
He felt shunted aside and drowned-out onstage: “Seeking relief from being positioned stage right, directly in front of four Jerry Garcia twin reverb [amps] turned up to 10, I moved across the stage, there to be greeted by Mickey’s cannons… Onstage, I was chronically underamplified… Consequently I was never able to find a comfortable platform amid the band’s texture… I felt baffled, remote, unable to get a fix on even my own contributions to the mix.”
Constanten was unused to ‘rock & roll-style’ playing (and was impressed by how comfortable Pigpen was in that mode) – though he tried “slowly, too slowly” to develop his own style within the band, he pretty much had to fend for himself. “The sometimes truculent directions I got from the band members were often mutually contradictory…some of [them] didn’t have that clear an idea of the keyboard’s role in a guitar band.” Garcia told him to play “more like a source and less like a sideman.” “One of the band members suggested that I [should] imitate someone who was already ‘doing it.’ Aside from any philosophical disagreement I might have with [that], I couldn’t make that advice work… Phil pointedly remarked how much he preferred Howard Wales’s playing when he sat in with the band.” [Presumably this was after the 8/28/69 show.]

After little over a year, Constanten realized that things were not improving. (The band, of course, was switching to a more country-based repertoire during his stay.) “My ‘thing’ wasn’t developed enough yet to stake out its territory…and it was becoming increasingly clear that that break wasn’t coming… The limited input I had with the Dead wasn’t getting me off, and it wasn’t getting them off either.”
Finally a solution emerged, as Constanten found another opportunity. “I had an offer to be the composer and musical director of Tarot, which was moving to New York. The prospect of being a bigger fish in a smaller pond was one that I found inviting, so the Dead and I agreed amicably that I would be going on to something else.”
Constanten emphasizes that this was not a ‘firing’, more of a goodbye handshake. “The meeting in the hotel room in New Orleans where the plans for our musical parting of the ways were drafted was as cordial and supportive as anyone could imagine under the circumstances.” All the same, he has a wistful account of that evening. “After the discussion about my leaving the band, I went to the gig anyhow through sheer force of habit. In the onsetting numbness, I remember little more than standing behind the amplifiers until Jerry beckoned me to the keyboard with his eyes.”
(Now he views it philosophically: “I could have been one of those keyboard-players who is no longer alive, had I remained…”)

After Constanten departed, the band did not have fond words for his contribution. Mickey Hart considered it one of Lesh’s “intellectual trips… [TC] never fit in. He couldn’t let go. He thought too much…I couldn’t connect.” Weir was also dissatisfied: “He had to invent his own style – but he didn’t. He had no roots in African American music.” And even Lesh agreed: “TC never got over a certain stiffness. He couldn’t swing.”

It’s often forgotten how critical the Dead were of each other, throughout the years. As Garcia said later on, “The Grateful Dead is not where you’re going to find comfort. In fact, if anything, you’ll catch a lot of shit.” He explained, “We go nuts when something goes wrong onstage…every one of us turns into a bug-eyed monster, shrieking…”

Michael Lydon wrote about the aftermath of the disastrous show on 5/29/69: “Backstage was a brawl. ‘We should give the money back if we don’t do it righteous! Where’s Bear?… Listen man, are you in this group, are you one of us?’ Jerry screamed. ‘Are you gonna set up that P.A.? Their monitors suck, I can’t hear a goddamn thing out there. How can I play if I can’t hear the drums?…’
‘Let’s just go ahead,’ said Pigpen, ‘I can fake it.’ ‘I can’t,’ said Jerry. ‘It’s your decision,’ said Pig. ‘Yeah,’ said Phil, ‘if you and nobody else gives a good goddamn.’”

Donna Godchaux reported that in the late ‘70s the band was unhappy “after almost every concert. Most of the time it was the blame game, depending on who was in the room… The adrenaline is still there [after a show], and the atmosphere is so charged that you need to have some kind of closure…and unfortunately, with the Grateful Dead, it was hardly ever there… Everyone was judging the evening based on something different, so that made for some complicated scrutinies.”
Justin Kreutzmann remembered it as typical in the ‘80s for Garcia to be yelling about the drummers after a show, “Fuck, man, they played out of time, Jesus Christ!” The band was not quite as philosophical in the heat of a show as they could be in interviews. “After shows, there were some meetings where they’d sit around and talk about the way [they] played… After all these years, I thought these guys were all supposed to like each other. It wasn’t like…‘You know, maybe you could do better.’ It was: ‘Hey, that was shit, man. Why don’t you get back to the music? Why do you keep fucking us up?’ It was just merciless.”

Garcia reflected in the calm of an interview: “What I’m after is a real great musical experience… I really do want it to be great, and I am terribly disappointed if it’s not. That means every aspect of it. But when you’re working in a band, you have to try to let everybody have his own voice the way he best sees it. There are always going to be things that create friction.”
The Dead was designed as a collaboration in which everyone had a voice. Lesh said that if the band went in “any one particular direction, it would eventually narrow down, if anyone was really in charge. If Jerry was really the leader of the Grateful Dead, let’s say, which he isn’t… The Grateful Dead doesn’t go his way, it doesn’t go Bob’s way, it doesn’t go my way – it goes its own way.”

Sometimes one of them would try to give the band a nudge, only to find resistance from the others. To Garcia, “If things aren’t happening really perfect, then the Grateful Dead is really hard work.”
Lesh was no longer able to be the taskmaster he’d been in ’68. “Being the bass player, it’s a little difficult to communicate the ideas that would cause the music to go in any particular direction, because in the Grateful Dead there’s a lot of playing ahead… I would systematically try everything I could think of…to make a specific change at given points in a tune or a jam…and it took me a long time to realize that people just won’t listen… I’m always kicking myself cause I can’t make it happen.”
Garcia noticed, “The Grateful Dead has this weird quality, and everybody feels this, people in the audience feel it regularly, that ‘if I could just get everybody to do what I wanted them to do, or do it the way they did it that night, it would be perfect.’ It has this fixable quality. (And it never happens.)”
Lesh sighed, “Nobody ever gets exactly what he wants from the Grateful Dead.”

Even in the ‘80s, Garcia admitted, “It’s like we’re just getting started. There’s so much that we haven’t even done with the band… I think that, truthfully, we’re just starting to get somewhere.”
Lesh felt the uphill path was a long one. “With the Grateful Dead, there’s more possible than you could ever dream of – even I could ever dream of. That’s what’s frustrating.”
Fifteen years after being ‘fired’, Weir laughed. “Phil had, way back when, a really good notion of what the music could amount to. He’s been waiting for my musicianship to reach his ideals of what the music could amount to – and he probably still is, and he probably has a long wait ahead of him.”