October 5, 2010

The Mysterious Case of 12/17/70

There has been some confusion over the circulating tapes labeled 12/17/70 and 12/23/70, which have some contradictory setlists and conflicting venue information. It’s time to clear this up – and in the process, perhaps reveal a new, unsuspected piece of Dead taping history.

We’ll start with a glance at the two Winterland shows in October ’70, as they’ll help solve the curious December ’70 mixups.
10/4/70 you’re probably all familiar with. It’s famous for being broadcast quadraphonically on the KQED and KSAN FM stations (while also being broadcast live on KQED TV) – not only that, but because of the radio broadcast, it became one of the first Dead bootlegs, released in part on the “Mammary Productions” boot in early 1971. The show we have is short for 1970, only about an hour – the Dead probably faced time constraints since they were sharing the stage not only with the New Riders, but also with the Airplane, Hot Tuna, and Quicksilver – and the Dead were just the opening act that night!

The 10/5/70 Winterland show does not circulate, but we do have one song from it, Dancing in the Streets, which was released as a bonus on the 2/4/70 Download Series disc.
It’s been said that the Dead didn’t know yet during the 10/4 show that Janis Joplin had died (although McNally says they were told before the set) – it’s a very exuberant show. The next day, though, her death must have been on people’s minds, and I think it’s reflected in the Dancing in the Streets. It’s a rather subdued version, and Garcia’s playing is quite pinched and lyrical, almost in a Bird Song vein – as he solos, it’s almost like his own little funeral elegy for Janis.

Now let’s look at the ‘12/17/70’ setlist, which seems innocent at first:

Hard to Handle
Me and My Uncle
Cold Rain and Snow
Dancing in the Street
Uncle John's Band

The file text notes outline the confusion:
"Deadlists identifies it as the Matrix, based on Rob Eaton's transcript of the vault reel. However, when Dick Latvala copied the show to cassette, he attached the following label: "Here is something I have, that was labeled 12/17/70 - Winterland."
A long-standing confusion between this show and the Owsley benefit held at Winterland on 12/23/70, continues to infect GD tapelists. The first four songs, Hard to Handle through Cold Rain and Snow, were put into general circulation by the Bay Area Tapers Group in the mid-1990s, and continue to be mislabeled as 12/23/70.
The last 2 tracks may or may not belong with this!"

When we look over at the oldest ‘12/23/70’ file, we find that it indeed duplicates the first four songs.
But the newer 12/23/70 offers these songs:

Me and Bobby McGee
Dire Wolf
Good Lovin'
Casey Jones
Uncle John's Band

Deadlists unhelpfully conflates this with the four ‘12/17’ songs. The 12/23 file text notes state:
“This is the complete set played on 12/23/70 at Winterland. It does not include the four-song excerpt (Hard to Handle through Cold Rain and Snow) from 12/17/70 that was long thought to be a part of this show. At the end, Phil says: "Good night, folks. Merry Christmas and God bless you!" And Jerry adds: "Thank you for helping us bail out the Bear!"

So we now have the real 12/23/70, at least part of it. The band comments at the end make the date certain. Dick Latvala said the genuine setlist was on Bear’s cassette – which is a strange comment, since Bear was in prison. (In fact, the show was a benefit for him.) So I presume the band thoughtfully made a tapecopy of this show for Bear!

But what about 12/17/70?

The Dead almost certainly did not play a show on 12/17, not at Winterland, and definitely not at the Matrix. It was Crosby/Garcia/Lesh playing at the Matrix that night.
Outside of the Hartbeats & other offshoots, the Dead never played at the Matrix after 1966 - it was simply too small a club for them.
So right away, we know we have a mislabeled tape. But why would these songs be misdated 12/17 and 12/23 – not only on our circulating tapes, but within the Vault?

Charlie Miller has the answer -
"12/17/70 and 12/23/70 are actually a mix of 10/4/70 and 10/5/70.
(Btw, I have the real 12/23/70.)
What I was told is that 10/4/70 and 10/5/70 were multitracked and the 12/17/70 and 12/23/70 dates were the mixdown dates.
The Uncle John's Band put on The Golden Road box set as a bonus track is listed as 12/23/70, but it's actually from 10/4/70 (confirmed by a friend who taped 10/4/70 off the radio and still has his master).”

After some comparisons, it looks like Miller was definitely right in saying that our '12/17' and one of the '12/23' tapes are a mix of 10/4 and 10/5/70. This led to some confusion within the Vault, with the same songs being attributed to different dates. This helps explain why Rob Eaton would have misidentified his ‘12/17/70’ reel, because the wrong date was on his Vault reel label.
It didn’t help matters that a ‘12/23/70’ tape in the Vault ALSO contained mixes of the October Winterland shows, especially since the Dead were actually playing at Winterland again on 12/23, in the Bear Benefit.

This show fragment at the Archive is the REAL 12/23/70:
At 45 minutes, this is clearly incomplete - we're still missing most of the show. (One Archive witness estimates the show was two hours.) It’s said the show was billed as “Acoustic Grateful Dead”, and they played with Hot Tuna and the New Riders. This strongly implies that this show could have the missing last acoustic set of 1970! (Then again, the Dead might have changed their minds…)

David Lemieux has posted clips from ‘12/23/70’ on the Taper's Section, but they are NOT from this show.
The Cold Rain & Snow is from 10-4-70.
The Dancing in the Streets is from 10-5-70, as it was correctly dated on the Download Series.
And as Miller noted, the (Workingman's Dead bonus) Uncle John's Band labeled 12-23-70 is indeed from 10-4-70.
So obviously the Vault has a '12-23-70' tape that's simply a mix of the October shows. (And, just coincidentally, was made on the same day as another Winterland show.)

Now turning to our '12-17-70' tape, we find some interesting duplications:
Cold Rain & Snow is 10-4-70 again.
Uncle John's Band is also 10-4-70.
Dancing in the Streets is, you guessed it, 10-5-70 again.
(The other three songs - Hard to Handle, Candyman, and Me & My Uncle - must presumably be from 10-5-70, unless they're from another unknown show.)

[Meanwhile, this '12-23-70' clip is merely a partial duplicate of the above, and can be ignored:
http://www.archive.org/details/gd70-12-23.sbd.vernon.10376.sbeok.shnf ]

Now what's interesting to me is that the December compilations of our October songs feature a very different mix. (For instance, compare the Download Series 10/5 Dancing in the Streets with the Taper's Section '12/23' mix.) Obviously the Dead had a multitrack of the October Winterland shows they could remix. (And they still do, as the 10/4 Till the Morning Comes was released as a bonus on the American Beauty CD – with the correct date, and sounding more balanced than our radio mix.)
According to deadlists, “David Lemieux confirms that there is no SBD of 10/5/70 in the Vault.” But that information’s ten years old, and clearly at least one song has surfaced in the Vault since then – so there’s hope we may hear more of this show in the future.

But why would the Dead have been mixing these shows two months later, or at any time? And for a band that wasn’t taping themselves at all at the time, why would they bring multitrack equipment to these Winterland shows?
Whether or not it was related to the 10/4/70 radio broadcast, the fact that the Dead would professionally tape these shows, and mix them two months later, strongly suggests that this was their first step toward making another live album. (And, not coincidentally, they started reference-taping their own shows again during the same weeks in December these mixes were made in the studio.)
But they must have decided to scrap these selections and start over in February. In fact, once they’d decided to multitrack, you’d think the best decision would have been to take the tape equipment to the Port Chester shows in November ’70, for the run of shows there would be far better than the Winterland sets. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen – but the Dead themselves obviously realized the missed opportunity, as they DID take the multitracks to Port Chester for the long run in February ‘71 to start taping their live album. However, after Feb 18, with a bundle of new songs to work out and Mickey Hart fleeing the scene, magic didn’t strike at those shows…but that’s another story…