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…
I. THE BACKGROUND
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. [Dead.net 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.
II. THE FIRING
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.
III. THE HARTBEATS
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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=13L6sjk080c )
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…
IV. THE AFTERMATH
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.”
After canceling the Europe ’68 tour, the Dead bided their time til they could try again. In early ’71 they planned a tour of Europe for that summer.ReplyDelete
Billboard reported (in the 1/23/71 issue) on “Europe ‘71”:
"In June the entire Dead Family (some 50 people) goes to Europe for a one month tour. They have rented six barges, each capable of carrying 15 people, and will travel where they can by water. One of the barges is a sound stage, and the bands will play as they travel down the canals of England and Holland. Tour also includes dates in France, Sweden and Germany, and the entire trip will be filmed for release as a full-length feature."
This tour, obviously, didn’t happen. It was not just 'canceled' though, but bumped back to the next year. I'm not sure why the initial plans fell through - the Dead were, after all, able to play one show in France in June '71, so it would have been worth their while to play more. Pigpen went with them, so his ill health wasn't an issue yet. My guess is there was a lack of forthcoming Warners funds. The Dead were able to "prove" themselves later in '71 with the success of the live album, and decided to finance the Europe '72 trip by recording another live album.
Good read, really appreciate you putting this together, thanks.ReplyDelete
This is a great assessment of what may have really happened. I think there was a retroactive element to Weir's thinking--he realized that he had been sort of fired, or at least on notice to being fired, although he may not have admitted it at the time. Definitely there was enough smoke to equal fire.ReplyDelete
The Christgau comment about "The Pigpen Revue" is also interesting, particularly in that it oddly prefigured the New Riders. In those days, bands played 50 minute sets and there were three bands on a bill. The Dead played for hours, and figured that if they could rename themselves as their opening act, they could double their money. The Airplane came to the same conclusion.
(As a footnote, the Airplane and The Doors shared a booking agency, which is why they were regularly co-billed).
That's an interesting speculation, that Weir might not have realized or admitted at the time that he was "fired". That's understandable if the band's conversations were anything like that taped meeting!ReplyDelete
I tried to address different views of the subject, as it was kind of a vague situation, and our evidence is patchy - as the band could barely communicate about it at the time, we can hardly expect them to be very clear about it later on!
It was more dramatic, though, to write about a Firing rather than an Almost-Firing...
Thank you - this does a great job of pulling together a lot of disparate pieces!ReplyDelete
Since you're doing a lot of very solid work putting together things that haven't been put together before, it would be extremely helpful if you could put some basic bibliographic info at the end of these. Many of these quotes I recognize from various interviews, but many of them I don't. It's not that you need to footnote every quote; just a list at the end of the piece of what books or magazines were drawn on for the quotes would be much appreciated.
Again, thanks much - I wouldn't even mention this if you weren't doing some of the best work out there on piecing together GD history!
Blair Jackson's book on Garcia is a treasure-trove of quotes, although he does not list any sources. Presumably many of them come from interviews in BAM or Golden Road, but many are untraceable for me. (Though there is a good collection of interviews from Golden Road - Goin' Down the Road.)
McNally's book is invaluable of course, though perhaps not as useful as it could be. He draws a lot from band anecdotes (sometimes more colorful than precise), but he prefers to paraphrase rather than quote, making one wonder about his sources. He definitely did a lot of research; though the result is rather dense & cluttered.
David Gans' Conversations With the Dead is excellent & inexhaustible (though it's just from the Dead's '80s perspective). His book Playing in the Band, I think I got some snippets from, but its quotes must be used with caution as many are rearranged Frankenstein-quotes.
Robert Greenfield's oral bio Dark Star is all quotes of course; though a lot of it doesn't directly concern the Dead's history, some parts were useful.
Phil Lesh's book is also useful; though his memories are sometimes dimmed by diplomacy & hindsight.
Tom Constanten's book Between Rock & Hard Places is entertaining, though the Dead section is brief.
The 1992 Golden Road has a good interview with Bob Weir. The 1993 issue has an excellent oral biography of Pigpen.
The Grateful Dead Reader has a long 1967 interview with Garcia.
Sometimes I find interesting nuggets in online interviews, as well. But any glance at a GD bibliography will show that there are numerous old interviews, newspaper reports & underground-press articles that have effectively vanished & are all but inaccessible, unless they get reprinted or put online.
Pigpen said in the band's May '70 trip to England: "Oh, we've got past the stage of thoughts of breaking up. What usually happens is that we go into town, to a saloon, shoot some pool or play cards. Then we accuse one another of cheating and start fighting."ReplyDelete
(From McNally, no source cited.)
I also have to mention one of Pigpen's moments of glory on the keyboards - ironically, at the 9/2/68 festival show, after the Dead had finished playing.
From the 10/31/68 Downbeat:
"The pinnacle of the festival was reached in a soulful blues session led by Big Mama Thornton, accompanied by James Cotton on mouth harp, Ron 'Pigpen' McKernan (of the Grateful Dead) on organ, one of the Dead's two drummers, and a guitarist. The session, late in the afternoon of the final day, seemed to define blues playing in a way that many of the rock groups had only been able to approach. The Grateful Dead, who preceded Big Mama and were very, very good in their usual bag, sounded square by comparison. Behind Miss Thornton, Pigpen comped and comped and comped - almost no solos."
Fantastic. Congrats, LIA. I this is going to take me awhile to digest, as well.ReplyDelete
I would like respectfully to join freight train in pleading for sourcing at the level of quotes and everything. It's no matter if Blair doesn't cite precise sources, or someone else doesn't: if you can, it will make your amazing work even more useful, IMO, because future generations will be able to go directly to the same sources you are using.
Obviously we are all free to do this however we want, which is why this is a humble and respectful plea ... please do consider it!
Thanks again for sharing your analysis, information and insight, LIA.
I feel, though, like I'm just skimming the surface of a few items commonly available on Dead bookshelves. Nothing here's hard to find! Anyone can do this, and it's easy to follow my tracks.
The goal is to tell Dead stories on a level that hasn't been done before - but I'm entirely a 'secondary' source myself. I browse, compile, digest, epitomize and synthesize. These articles are as accurate & authoritative as one person can manage, but I try not to be too academic about it.
As well, there are over a hundred different quotes in this piece. You can imagine the burden of citing them all, even if they only came from a dozen different sources!
Here's another Garcia quote, from the Oct '70 Action World interview:ReplyDelete
"After all this time we've learned to be able to work very well together, generally speaking.... We've all learned to leave room for each other in the development of an idea or playing. I mean, it has to be a cooperative trip or it ain't music. We're a band; that's where we are; it's evolved that way because we stuck it out. We never worked at it. What we used to do is rehearse a lot; we would take weird ideas and rehearse a lot, every day, six hours a day and, ah, you know, you could keep that up for so long, and then everybody starts getting at each other's throats because you start getting more and more detailed, where finally you're defining musical feelings to such a razor's edge. 'Cause our trip is really analytical when we get into rehearsing. We'll take one figure and play it over and over again for two hours, and stop it, and slow it down, and write it out, and invert it, and do every sort of variation with it, and look at it in every respect 'til we understand it perfectly, and then we'll go into the next level of it rhythmically, and then about three levels into an idea we'll start to have differences of opinion because of the differences of our nervous systems that perceive time subtly different, and perceive pitch subtly different, and so it gets into that extreme and tiny "subtly" where you start finding differences, but around the big open center which we're all a part of, we can all agree perfectly well."
Fascinating read. Always been intrigued by the rumours of the firing (or almost firing!) and this is by far and away the best read yet on the thorny subject.ReplyDelete
The whole matter of the mellow public persona vs the volatile, blame-culture led environment of the Dead frequently comes to the fore, and you may be interested to know that of the ill-fated June '71 French engagement that was cancelled and left the band holed up in a Chateau for two days, my good friend Geoff Nicholson (also holed up in the Chateau D'Heronville as a member of UK group East of Eden, also scheduled to play the same festival) can vouch for this first hand. He recalls Weir and Lesh being great guys but Garcia particularly stroppy and sulking.
Great story! I love the Hartbeats shows! There are so many pure stripped down jams...kind of like the bizarro Grateful Dead.ReplyDelete
I think it's the 10/8/68 that has the extra-scorching 'Seven'. In my opinion, this jam comes off very entertaining and unique. I think I read somewhere that these jams, weren't that fun for the musicians because of the concentrated counting involved to pull it off.
It's great to see that mind-blowing 'Seven' show up at the 9/29/69 show. Hopefully a better quality recording of that will turn up someday.
So many great jams at the Hartbeats shows. Garcia's guitar sound was at a peak around this time, like on the Two from the Vault release. He didn't need that much distortion or some of the more generic psychedelic vibrato sounds that you here on 2/14/68 that sound, which I like. His tone is just round, fat, clean, aggressive, and in the pocket. His lines of notes run with deep a linear precision, with very little dissonance of boredom or lack of ideas. It's amazing how powerfully universal and unique his tone is here. He would still nail great guitar sounds throughout his career, but around this time Garcia is discovering his signature sound in putting notes and spaces together and the relationships between them. Beautiful stuff!
I, and everyone else, have always assumed that Pigpen was not at the October '68 Avalon shows because he'd been fired.ReplyDelete
But it finally hit me that I, and everyone else, was wrong.
The evidence has been in front of me for a while, but I never noticed it...
Until I spotted an Archive reviewer for the 10/12/68 show who said:
"I was at this show. My first one! Jerry said Pig was at the hospital, cause his ol' lady was sick. The first song was Morning Dew."
You might say, yeah right, another online reviewer with false memories.
But he was right.
In mid-'66 Pigpen met the main love of his life, a black lady named Veronica. (Blair Jackson calls her Veronica Grant; McNally says Veronica Barnard.) She had moved in with him at 710 Ashbury, and later moved to Novato with him.
Garcia remembered, "They had one of those on-again, off-again relationships, but it was mainly on. I don't remember him ever having a long-term relationship with anybody but her."
In October '68, Veronica had a stroke.
Sue Swanson: "Pigpen called our house that morning, looking for Rock...and I could tell from his voice that something was really wrong. 'What's the matter?' 'Well, Veronica's had a stroke...' Veronica was a very close, dear friend of mine, like a big sister - and when Pigpen told me that I about lost it; I couldn't believe it. I said, 'What can I do?' and he said, 'Pray.' For Pigpen to say 'Pray' - well, it was the most serious thing I'd ever heard him say. It was obvious she was close to death."
Jon McIntire: "She couldn't walk or talk for quite a while. Her family took care of her and slowly she came back."
Laird Grant: "She didn't know who she was... Pigpen devoted himself to her as much as he could. She got back on her feet..."
McNally: "After her surgery, the band gathered around in support, and Jerry and Bobby came to her hospital room with guitars and encouraged her with a duo performance. Pig was her therapist through her recovery."
Tom Constanten: "Pigpen helped her pull through, and then later she stuck by him when he was having health problems."
I hadn't known the date of her stroke, but seeing the Archive comment, finally realized that it must have been before the Avalon shows. Pigpen was not sulking at home that week because he'd been fired, he was at the hospital with his girlfriend.
Which goes to show how much of our Dead 'knowledge' actually comes from old assumptions!
Anyway, Pigpen and Veronica stayed together for years after that. Until in November '72, they fought and split. According to McNally, Pigpen "sent Vee away, telling her, 'I don't want you around when I die.'"
Sue Swanson: "Veronica and Pig separated shortly before he died. My personal opinion...was that he knew what was happening, that he was dying, and he sent her away. There had been some friction between them. But I think he did it on purpose...because he knew what was coming."
Another parenthetical note I found in McNally that sheds a little more light:ReplyDelete
One of the Dead's Carousel managers (Bert Kanegson) had moved to Hawaii after the Carousel closed in June '68. In August Veronica called him "telling him that the band was breaking up and to come home." (This would have been around the same time after the Shrine shows that the band held their meeting to complain about Weir.)
He returned to SF and looked for a new rehearsal space for the band, renting the Hamilton Air Force Base building in early September.
I wish there were more details, because that makes it sound like Veronica was more involved with the band than we know - part of "the family", as it were. You can imagine how alarmed she might have been about Pigpen's role if she'd call one of the Dead's old managers to help keep the band together!
Some may question my relying on an Archive reviewer who says of the 10/12 show, "Jerry said Pig was at the hospital, cause his ol' lady was sick. The first song was Morning Dew."
For one thing, it seems unlikely Morning Dew was the first song (could've been a different show he went to). And how well would he remember a stage comment from 30 years ago?
Nonetheless, it fit. Our tape of the start of the show isn't complete, after all - as deadlists notes, the 12th actually has two separate incomplete stage intros, strangely enough (and the 13th cuts in during Dark Star) - and the 11th doesn't survive on tape at all, so perhaps that was the show our reviewer went to.
In any case, whatever Jerry might've said onstage, I think it likely that Jerry or someone may have said SOMETHING about Pigpen before a set that wasn't captured on our tapes. And indeed, Pigpen's old lady WAS seriously sick, and we know from other sources that he was spending lots of time at the hospital with her that month.
So I'm now thinking that if not for her stroke, Pigpen would have been at the Avalon.
It seems likely to me that, other than this, neither Pigpen nor Weir missed any Dead shows that fall. McNally's explanation is the simplest: "Though Weir and Pigpen were theoretically fired, they continued to perform at gigs."
Though Pigpen was 'dispensible' enough for the Dead to go ahead and play shows without him (as they'd do in later years), they preferred to have him there. He was still the strongest presence they had - for instance, their standard closing song was either Lovelight or Alligator. It's telling that on both 10/12 and 10/13, they awkwardly head from a half-assed New Potato into an abbreviated Alligator/Caution jam (without the 'song' parts) to end the shows.
McNally also indirectly mentions another factor. As of September '68, "the Dead owed Bill Graham $12,000 for a bailout loan," and they joined his newly formed Millard booking agency that month.
They were probably already in debt to Warners as well (I doubt Anthem was flying off the shelves in enough numbers to cover its lengthy studio costs!).
Remember Christgau's comment that the group breakup "never did happen, partly because the group, which is always in debt no matter how much money it earns, couldn’t handle the finances." Though the Dead were not a financially astute group in '68, I think they had sense enough to know that "breaking up" the band was perhaps not the best option when you have debts to pay. Instead, they turned to Bill Graham!
I suspect that by mid-October, the "firing" crisis was mainly over. Partly because Phil & Jerry had played a few Hartbeats shows early in the month, and must have realized after that how important the full band was. (Notice how FEW Hartbeats shows there were after October '68.)
The other thing is the show schedules.
The Dead actually played very few shows in early summer '68 - after the Carousel closed in June, as McNally says, "the band was in catastrophic disarray." They played barely any shows for the next two months - a glance at deadlists shows:
7/11 Los Angeles
7/12-13 Lake Tahoe
8/2-3 San Diego
8/4 Newport Pop Fest
Which leaves a whole lot of free time, and not much money coming in, despite Anthem's release on July 18. (McNally even calls the release "a disaster"!) McNally mentions that by that time, even rehearsals were suffering: "their rehearsal time at the Potrero Theater was severely limited due to noise complaints."
So it may be no wonder the band was feeling frazzled and out of sorts (and, more to the point, out of practice) by August. (It's telling that the first thing Kanegson did on his return in late August was to look for a new rehearsal place.)
The Dead also stepped up their touring just at that point, with a steady run of shows from Aug 20 to Sept 2. (Most of those were at the Fillmore West - their first shows there since Bill Graham took over the Carousel - which shows the interest Graham had in them.)
After the mid-September break when they started recording Aoxomoxoa, there are known shows on most weekends - 9/20+22, 10/5, 10/11-13, and 10/18+20. And then of course in November their show schedule starts picking up again with lots of shows that month, a brief trip to the NW, and a short midwest tour starting 11/22, which seems to imply increased band commitment. (Not only that, but these shows were presumably booked earlier, so in October the band knew these shows were coming.)
And Phil in particular likely knew that Tom Constanten was getting out of the Air Force just at that time, as TC's joining the Dead on Nov 23 must have been pre-arranged. They even bought him an organ! - instead of just putting him on Pigpen's; which shows how serious they were about it.
By mid-December (when they were interviewed for the radio documentary) they were already planning to record the live album, which I take as proof that the "firing" issues had been resolved.
So the picture in my mind now is that the "firing" crisis was indirectly caused by the band's long period of inactivity and little practice over the summer; that it did not show itself at any Dead shows (where the full band played as normal) but was entirely resolved (or unresolved) 'backstage'; and that the situation was solved not just by TC arriving, but by the increased touring that the band did in fall '68.
i was doing a little googling to see if i could find out more about veronica - didn't find much except a reference to an article about pigpen in the 93 issue of golden road that apparently has bits of an interview with her. don't know if you've seen it or if it has any relevant info, although it may be interesting anyway.ReplyDelete
Yes, I do have that issue, and it actually was the basis for my Pigpen article last month!ReplyDelete
I did some searching and found some Jefferson Airplane comments from 1968 that confirm Garcia's memory that "me and Jack Casady and Mickey were gonna form a power trio one day." (From which the 7/28/68 tape came.)ReplyDelete
Ralph Gleason interviewed Jorma Kaukonen at some point in 1968, and Jorma said: "We were thinking, Jack and myself and Mickey Hart of the Dead and Jerry Garcia, about when we're in town, just having a quartet, playing together, an instrumental quartet, which I think would be a lot of fun."
When Gleason interviewed Jack Casady, he said: "I'm working with Mickey with the Grateful Dead right now, that's where I'm going after tonight... He's had lots of jazz experience, and right now the Dead's working with a lot of times, they're working with 11/4 and 7/4 - getting into rhythmical trips, and things that jazz cats got into a long time ago...
Jorma and I play a lot together, in hotel rooms and things like that. We can get into some really interesting, really insane shit, that he can't do with the band. You can't do it with more than three pieces; sometimes two. [And] I'm working now with Phil Lesh; we're going to work on some double-bass things. Because he's got a whole different approach to it than I do, and I really dig his playing. They're working on double-drum things. We're going to work on some double-bass things with a drum. We're going to try different combinations, you know.
We're going to be in town for a while now and this is the first chance I've had to do this, and try some experimentation along these lines.
Jorma and I and Mickey are going to try and get together and play some things; just maybe show up at the Matrix one night or something, nothing big. Or play in a room, that's all. We're going to try to get together if we can, if Jorma can."
I think here we can see not only the origin of the Hartbeats, but the origin of Hot Tuna. What's interesting is the path they meant to explore, but didn't - why don't we hear Jorma at any of the Hartbeats shows, for instance; what happened to the planned quartet? Lesh and Casady alternate playing bass at the Hartbeats shows, but there's never any double-bass playing on our tapes.
Spencer Dryden also made an interesting comment to Gleason:
"The Dead is about the only band that we've ever really played with a lot. We've played with them more here in San Francisco than any other band, but also on the road we've played with them in Canada. We've worked with them a lot and we talk about...putting on a show. Doing more than just music and more than just your arrangements of your tunes. We'd like to mix it up a little bit: you know, let's play some of the Dead's material; let's have the Dead play some of ours; let's have Grace sing with them; let's have Pigpen sing with us. Let's have some fun! It doesn't have to be that rigid format."
That, of course, never came to pass!
True, the Dead and the Airplane did not play each other's songs on stage, as Dryden had suggested they could. But his "it doesn't have to be that rigid format" quote does seem to prefigure the whole Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra era/paradigm.Delete
It does, but the PERRO amalgam was pretty much a studio-only phenomenon. Dead and Airplane members were happy to show up and jam at each other's shows, but actually sharing songs seems to have been a step too far. It's interesting that the one guy who did embrace the idea of "playing each other's songs on stage" was not one of the Airplane, but David Crosby in the short-lived David & the Dorks.Delete
Found a couple more comments indicating how surprisingly dissatisfied the Dead were with their live shows in late '68:ReplyDelete
10/20/68 is one of the great classic shows from that year - but the band themselves did not like it. In fact, they disliked it so much, they refused to play at the Greek Theatre for the next 13 years!
Weir remembered in 1981: "I've wanted to play that place for so long, and I've encountered a lot of resistance. We played there a long time ago [10/20/68], and we didn't play so well, so we blamed the place. I kept remembering it as not being that way: the place sounded okay, we just didn't have it in us that day. Sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it doesn't. It took us twelve years to get back around to playing there."
In late 1968, James Doukas (author of the book Electric Tibet) talked briefly to Phil Lesh about the band.
"The Dead were tired of playing bad gigs. The fun of the beginning had drifted in the years of performing. Phil mentioned that it was hard to maintain any consistency of performance with all the fuck-ups that inevitably happen."
Doukas wasn't sure whether the Dead would stay together in 1969, but thought it looked like they'd break up - "One week we would hear that the Dead were dead. The next weekend we would hear that they just walloped an audience into standing ovations."
(Unfortunately, though Doukas interviewed several other SF bands for his book, no other details on the Dead were included! A lost opportunity...)
At any rate, the Dead always set very high standards for themselves in the early days - you have to wonder how these shows would have sounded if they HAD been playing up to their own standards! Or if that was even possible...
I've talked elsewhere about how the band had Warners record the now-revered LA Shrine shows in November '67 & August '68, only to reject them for release. Another earlier example is the Toronto shows from August '67. The recorded portions are fantastic, but the Dead at the time thought little enough of them to tape over part of the recordings!
As McNally says, "For Garcia, they were terrible shows in which everyone played badly, there was a buzz in the sound system that was louder than the music, the band was in complete turmoil, and he was ready to fire Weir for his insensate playing."
Found another revealing contemporary comment!ReplyDelete
You can often miss these things when looking in a short article, but sometimes just a brief aside casts a new light on the story.
In this case - Rolling Stone printed a little review of the Sky River Rock Festival in Sep '68:
http://obie1.homesite.net/deadcd/articlesrs.htm (second article)
There's one brief mention of the Dead:
"The Grateful Dead played a magnificent set for their last appearance with the personnel of their recordings."
That really clicks things into place... For so long people have been thinking of "the firing" as an October '68 event, partly because the Hartbeats shows start then, partly because of Pigpen's absence from the Avalon shows (for a different reason). But it was over by then.
The main crisis seems to have come at the end of August, when we have that taped band-meeting. Here, on 9/2/68, the reporter must have talked a bit to the Dead or someone to hear that this would be "their last appearance with the personnel of their recordings."
This puts the 9/2/68 show in a new light - it was meant to be a farewell show; if someone was going to tell a reporter that some members were leaving, you can imagine Pigpen & Weir playing with an axe over their heads!
As it happened, they didn't play another show until 9/20 - McNally writes that they had another scheduled show in San Jose with Frank Zappa that month, but it was canceled due to low ticket sales.
9/20 is a strange show that falls apart from equipment troubles, but two guest drummers are on hand for a very long drum-solo. (Mickey's friends?) In the meantime, the Dead started recording Aoxomoxoa.
I think the "firing" talk must have settled down during September. Aside from starting the album, we know a couple other things happened that month -
They moved to a new rehearsal space (from the Potrero Theater, where they could no longer play, to the Hamilton AFB).
And they joined Bill Graham's Millard Agency for show bookings.
And, at some point before early October they also came up with the Hartbeats idea.
Coming all together, these do not look like the actions of a band in disarray & falling apart. I think making these solid plans for the future probably helped keep them together, as the band realized it would be best to keep Pigpen & Weir in the picture after all. That may not have been openly stated, but coming after the 9/2 announcement that some "personnel" were leaving, it seems to be the pattern in Sept '68.
Thanks for this excellent pulling together of evidence and anecdotes about a fascinating period.Delete
As far as the 9/20/68 show goes, I've just read "Owsley And Me: My LSD Family" by Rhoney Gissen Stanley. It's not going to bother the judges of any literary prizes, but it does have some fascinating insights into the era. One of which refers to this show. To cut a long story short, the Ali Akbar Khan School of Music had a house in the Oakland hills that they were due to vacate. Owsley, looking for a house to use for whatever purposes took a liking to it and wanted to obtain the lease. Rhoney, as well as being one of the women who had a relationship with Owsley was a student at the school. She notes that Vincent Delgado, the administrative head of the school was dying to play percussion with the Dead. So basically a deal was cut where Owsley used his influence with the Dead to get Delgado to play percussion with the Dead in exchange for selling the lease on the property on to Owsley. The book notes that "the Indian musicians opened with a raga performed by Ali Akbar Khan on sarod. The Grateful Dead performed Alligator...Vince Delgado...sat in on percussion." (It's pages 166-8 in the paperback version I have.) Even given the usual caveats about those who remember the 60s weren't really there (and imagining a corollary for the memories of those who were there AND were around Owsley :-) it's an interesting little gem.
Thanks for the interesting story from Rhoney.Delete
I would imagine Mickey Hart was probably a lot closer to Vince Delgado than Owsley was (Mickey was also a student at the Ali Akbar School, and Owsley's "influence with the Dead" would not have been necessary), but of course Rhoney would see it from Owsley's perspective.
Owsley was not close to Delgado. The way it unfolds in the book is that Rhoney had been studying at the school pretty much since it opened in summer '67, and had had a brief fling with the tabla teacher there. She knew Delgado; Bear didn't. The way Rhoney tells it, by Bear offering Delgado the chance to play with the Dead (which she suggested to Bear), Delgado had an incentive to give Bear first call on the lease. The suggestion is that as somebody who had been hanging around the school forover a year, she knew what Delgado wanted and was in a position to link up Bear's want for the lease and Delgado's desire to play with the Dead.Delete
That doesn't answer why Delgado couldn't just ask Mickey, but that may have been a cultural or etiquette thing. Plus Mickey would have to "sell" the idea to the rest of the band at what sounds like a fractious time in GD-land. If Bear could give the band a nudge in that sort of direction, it might be easier to accomplish, since between the acid and the soundwork, I think they probably felt inclined to grant him a favour occasionally..
And I can see Mickey being reticent about admitting to any Owsley involvement - I guess the statute of limitations is up now but back 30+ years ago saying one of the reasons for doing the gig was so that Owsley could get first dibs on the Ali Akbar School's building so he may or may not have been able to make or tablet LSD there would probably have caused some problems :-)
It may be a bit of both, or it may be Rhoney's memory is completely at fault here, we'll probably never know, but it's a mildly amusing alternate slant.
(Thanks for the reference, btw).
More on the band's post-show criticisms -ReplyDelete
Filmer Leon Gast talked about some outtakes from the GD Movie, at Winterland '74:
In a dressing room backstage after a set, "Garcia comes in. He's pacing back and forth. A couple of minutes later the rest of the band comes in. He goes to Kreutzmann, 'You know it's hard enough playing leads and singing — at least you can stay on the fucking time,' screaming at him. Then he yells at Weir, really dressing him down. [In another outtake] Weir talks about, 'Do you know how difficult it's been playing next to this guy the last few years?'"
[from the blairjackson.com additions, chapter 14]
Susan Crutcher (one of the GD Movie editors) doesn't remember any such scene; but it definitely rings true to Donna's & Justin's memories of post-show arguments.
First, just want to say that this is an amazing piece of musical history writing! I've been a Deadhead for a long, long time, and I've read a lot, but I haven't made my way to all of the sources you're pulling from here, and I've definitely never seen anyone put this particular episode together in such incredible detail. Kudos!ReplyDelete
My only other comment, especially following the one above, is how fascinating it is to really consider what seems like Garcia's Jeckyll and Hyde personality. There are very few people working in any medium who I find more enjoyable to simply sit and listen to than Garcia - the guy just goes on endlessly about anything, with his breadth of knowledge of so many things and ideas inside and outside music. So when I think of Garcia the person, that's the guy I think of first and foremost, despite the reports of "band fights" through the years. But it's increasingly clear to me that Garcia was a terribly difficult person in a lot of ways, too. I really wonder how much of the anger he'd level at others was really some kind of deep self-loathing, kind of in Lennon's "I'm mad or I'm a genius" kind of way. It would certainly help explain the depths into which he followed the Persian once he found it. By all accounts I've read, it was as central to the last 18 or so years of his life as any other person or thing. I've never been able to understand the same guy who could be so genial and smiling and witty and fascinated by so many things could be, at the same time, a junkie totally unwilling to engage with much of anyone, let alone his own demons. It seemed like that habit was just where he felt like being by the late 70s, and once it had him, that was that, apart from periods where his health alarms would shake him into temporary clean-ups. It's not hard to imagine that a guy who feels unhappy enough with its performances to be screaming at his bandmates after shows might finally decide that it was a lot more livable to simply disengage as much as he could allow himself to do. I don't know, it's hard to really piece together what life looked like on a day-to-day level for him or the band. But the moral of this ramble is that Garcia certainly contained incredible depths as a person, not all of them benign, but all of which had to contribute to his musicianship. He was such a deep and searching player and songwriter because he contained so much within him. To have so much to say and to be so consistently dissatisfied with its saying has got to take a toll. And yet he kept it right up until he died. Incredible.
Although he did stay on the road til the end, he had definitely burned-out on the Dead in the '90s and was much less engaged with them.
McNally felt that Garcia was insecure & depressed a lot of the time, though he could cover it up. I can't judge, since in interviews he always comes across as positive & optimistic - we never really see the Jerry of Wharf Rat or Stella Blue talking.
And his behavior could vary - sometimes he could greet the public & chat for hours with strangers; sometimes he'd be surly & just lock himself in his room.
I don't think his addiction really contradicts the rest of his character - he spent his life indulging himself - but on another level, for any junkie, once the habit gets on top, nothing else is important, only the next hit. Simple biology, though his personal choices are what led him there. As he said once, "if life is miserable, what's wrong with adding a buffer to it so that your experience of it is a little gentler?"
And the Dead, as a whole, was a band that encouraged addictions - Weir & the drummers managed to avoid it, but Pigpen & Phil were alcoholics, Jerry rarely had a moment when he wasn't high, Keith & Brent loved to get wasted (damaged one, killed the other)... It was a pretty destructive group to be in.
This is a good interview on the topic -
And a McNally quote:Delete
"All of us—-band, crew, Dead Heads—-watched and suffered as he tried to erase his pain in the last years, and a good portion of that pain was the direct result of his fame, of the expectations life had put on him. Fifty people and their families needed him to work so that they could pay bills. A million people needed him and his band to supply their musical fix about 80 nights a year. And at heart Jerry wanted to be Huck Finn, or more precisely an 18-year-old guy gettin’ stoned, playing music, flirting with girls, and having fun...
In his last years Jerry battled a lot of demons, and he battled them by using drugs to insulate himself from feeling them. Since at the same time he was doing that he was dealing with things like raging diabetes, he was experiencing fairly serious mood swings. It wasn’t as though he was rampaging around yelling at people—-he was usually too civilized for that—-but he was grumpy and moody and posting big “leave me alone” signs with his body language. So I left him alone... When he got profoundly unhappy—-pretty much from 1993 on—-I let him be, either steering stuff to other band members or just saying “No” as nicely as possible."
With respect to that 'Jekyll & Hyde' personality bit: in a Rolling Stone interview of '70 or '71 or so, Jerry mentioned how in high school he had to adopt a 'tough-guy', hoodlum persona to keep from getting beaten up by the bullies, while on weekends he could be himself, and go to art exhibits and museums and the like... He's always had a sort of tough-guy/sensitive-artist duality; and nothing brings that home better than that snippet in the GD movie, where Jerry talks about throwing Phil down a "small flight of stairs" over anger at something not sounding right (and being high, of course) -- but does so in this warm/fuzzy, sensitive-guy way, and sounds really downright nerdy, IMHO...Delete
I've also noticed this in photographs of Jerry; I'd look at them and wonder what sort of person I'd think he was if I had known him personally, and while some photographs (e. g., 1969 to 1975 or so) are of that earnest/sensitive/nerdy sort of guy, in others (earlier) he can be quite intimidating-looking... Like all of us, he had his ups and downs, I suppose -- and those eternal "Pressures Of Fame" he was under couldn't have possibly helped.
But -- there's one more facet of the pressures Jerry was under that I have to ask about and get other people's opinions of, if possible: how do artists deal with completely uncritical acceptance of their work? That David Gans interview (www.levity.com) mentions "the famously uncritical majority of the audience" that loved what he did; but, doesn't an artist's art suffer -- considerably -- with nothing but uncritical acceptance? If people are going to cheer anything you do, why bother honing your craft? Why bother practicing? Why bother at all? Could our uncritical acceptance of his music have had a real negative impact upon his art, his morale, his sense of purpose?
Garcia could be pretty grouchy & surly sometimes... Which is not really a surprise or evidence of a dual personality, it's what you might expect from anybody being mobbed all the time; but he always tried to present himself as being ever upbeat & optimistic.Delete
One person commented on the Archive recently: "I recall the 04/06/78 Tampa show, where Jerry was in a visibly foul mood the entire show, snarling at the other band members and clearly sulking and acting out (Jerry could be very petulant). He seemed to be going out of his way to be musically uncooperative and even dismissive towards the audience - most Florida non-Deadheads who prob assumed he was just another spoiled rock star and lapped it all up. But it was a very solid show, nonetheless. Garcia did say in the Grateful Dead Movie his mood was irrelevant to the level of his playing..."
Merl Saunders recalled: "He would sometimes get very angry. You could never tell this when he was playing, because he seemed to always be happy when he was playing, but offstage he'd go through these dramatic changes, like getting in the limo: 'Fuck it. In the car, Merl! Roll up that window! Driver, just drive right through the crowd!' And I'm like, 'Hey, man, cool it!' It bugged him that these people wouldn't give him his space. It became very annoying to him. The people were always well-meaning and all, but he just didn't want to have to deal with it a lot of times... Some days he accepted it, some days he didn't. Some days he had the bullies [the road crew] in front of him to keep people away from him." [Jackson 263]
He's remembered for being kind & gracious, though, and would emphasize in interviews how nice & understanding his fans were...he'd say how important it was to make time for them, how he too used to be shy & starstruck when approaching musicians he admired, etc.
Garcia always said the audience could tell when the Dead were having an off night & were accepting of it. For instance, he told Relix, "If we had a night that didn't quite reach escape velocity or whatever, they know. And it's nice that they're as patient and they cut us a lot of slack... They give us a lot of room. We aren't under any particular pressure to perform the Grateful Dead's greatest hits...they welcome unfamiliar stuff... We have great freedom; we can go out there and play anything, really... They understand that we're doing the best that we can."
Reading so many uncritical reviews from fans who loved it all, I'm not sure how much of the audience was even minimally discerning. After a while, all the band had to do was show up. And the 'freedom' that the band had to be adventurous with their sets, they used in only limited ways - they never played "anything, really."
Weir said once, "The undiscriminating and unconditional love and admiration and adulation of all those people doesn't do a whole lot for the music, I'll say. We can do anything - we don't have a very critical audience. For instance, on a bad night, if the crowd goes wild after we just rendered a relatively dismal set, I feel horrible about that... They should run us out of town on a rail, and they never do." [Conversations 119]
But there's a whole lot of competing perceptions going on in this subject. Garcia liked to say that the band was getting more consistent over time; but you could say they were just getting more lazy. He'd also say that the band tended to agree more over the years on when a show was good (whereas they used to disagree more), which may be part of that. And he often mentioned that how he felt during a show never seemed to translate into how the music sounded afterwards on tape - his descriptions of his experience playing a show generally sound very workmanlike, and he seems to have focused on very small details in the music.
Personally I think it's true that if you know the audience will eat up anything you do, you have much less reason to, say, rehearse some more, shake up the setlists, surprise people. (The other bandmembers definitely worked more on this kind of thing in their post-Garcia bands.) Fortunately Garcia's morale was closely related to a job well-done; he kept in practice for his own sake, and obviously felt bad about playing poorly. "If the last gig was a bad one, it's like there's nothing to do but end it all." Being very self-critical, he tended to describe Dead shows as passable at best, and often wondered why people kept coming at all. (Then again, this could be just his 'public' approach in interviews - he seems to have had an ingrained resistance to trying TOO hard, since he knew he could coast on audience forgiveness.)
The issue of whether the music suffered is itself tangled, since in the first place you'd have to agree that the band declined over time - not all people do. Garcia & Weir seem to have thought that the band was playing better over the years (though Lesh might disagree). The band did have the ability to revive itself from time to time too, whether in '83 or '89, etc, so rather than focusing on how their concentration faltered over the years, perhaps it's more remarkable that they'd keep finding new inspiration. And also, the way the Dead played perhaps depended more on the interaction of the band as a whole, than on how well any one person was playing - Garcia felt that he as an individual was not as important as fans thought, and at any time some people on stage might be more 'up' than others. (The band knew very well that the 'event' meant as much as the music, too; though I don't think they ever said so directly, that's one big reason they kept it going even when various bandmembers got tired of it - they had a higher purpose than simply playing well.)
And in Garcia's case in particular, there's the related question, did Garcia Band shows suffer from the audience adulation? That was a much more relaxed environment for him, and he didn't have to make the same effort as he did at a Dead show (the audience had, perhaps, even lower expectations) - but aside from the mid-'80s there doesn't seem to have been a slump on that front. Of course the peaks were never as high either, so that band stayed more in a middle range of consistency...
re: Garcia's crankiness--I think it is also helpful to remember that Garcia had lifelong obstructive sleep apnea, which greatly limited the amount of sustained sleep he could get at a time, since he would constantly stop breathing once he fell asleep, and thus would immediately awaken with a shock. And it is known that sleep deprivation does make a person more tired and susceptible to drowsiness, also more susceptible to health problems including heart issues--and more irritable.Delete
Combined with Garcia's diabetes and especially with the tremendous pressure he was constantly under, along with the fact that most creative persons (I am a visual artist myself, FWIW) tend to have high standards for themselves and their work, along with his deep pain about losing his father so tragically at a young age, and it is little wonder that he evinced a dual personality.
And to the above post, I myself have sleep apnea, and before I got a CPAP to help me sleep deeply and consistently, I was regularly tired, cranky, and also more depressed regularly. So I can relate.Delete
True, sleep deprivation will make anyone more tired, cranky, unhealthy and depressed! And Garcia suffered from sleep apnea since at least the '70s if not earlier (later in life it seems he took a lot of naps to compensate). Mountain Girl said his sleeping problems got worse as he got older.Delete
At the same time, we should allow that Garcia was just cranky sometimes, or had reasons to be upset, and not place it all on his health or sleeping problems. Up to the '70s his constant activity, output, and work ethic don't seem like the behavior of someone desperately craving more sleep...more like someone who can't wait to get out of bed and pick up the guitar!
Actually, the evidence points to Garcia's having been afflicted with his sleep problems at least as far back as the mid-'60s, as per Lesh's mentioning in his autobiography just how dramatically loud Garcia's snoring was when they roomed together in 1966, plus the rhythmic pattern of Garcia's snores does imply relatively lengthy intervals between inhalations and exhalations. And yes, obstructive sleep apnea does worsen over time.Delete
I do agree with you that he did seem quite enthusiastic, energetic, and diligent on a consistent basis, at least until that started to abate toward the end of the '70s.
A remarkable article, far more insightful than most. The "firing" is merely a footnote to the article's real strength, which is its insights into the inner dynamics of the Dead. It's an eye-opener to read how often dissatisfied they were with their music. Their high bar undoubtedly contributed to the (often) glorious music they gave us. And their scathing self-critiques stand in stark contrast to the mindless adoration that always greeted them in later years. On the other hand, I recall standing behind a couple of veteran Heads at the first gig I caught (7/18/72) who just ragged on Phil until the band caught fire with Birdsong. Though they were a minority, there were a lot of Heads who had a high bar as well.ReplyDelete
Coupla quick thoughts:
*TC was way too hard on himself. A listen to Live Dead or the best of '69 will tell you that when he was on (and the sound on his organ was up) he melded seamlessly with Jerry and Phil.
*Garcia's appraisal of Weir as an "utterly unique" rhythm guitarist--couldn't agree more, though I do wish Weir would've bore down more and stopped playing so high up on the neck, which he started doing in late '70s.
*Fire Pig? The Dead lost much of their grit when he passed. They certainly never would have produced drek like Go to Heaven with Pig still in the band. Weir doing Good Lovin' was a joke.
*Lesh's comment, "nobody ever gets exactly what they want from the Grateful Dead" is so, so true. I loved the band's sound from 1970-74--the repertoire and also the warmth of Garcia's Gibsons and Strat--and that's the Dead I always wanted to hear. As they moved into the '80s, their sound got colder for my ears, a bunch of new songs were pretty lame and Weir's "showmanship" did not impress, IMHO. I wasn't getting what I wanted, and so I got off the bus. Stayed on for the JGB, though. If Garcia found any happiness at all in his last years, I'd like to think he found it there.
*Before the Persian took Garcia's life, it took his curiosity and work ethic. His output from the late '60s to the late '70s is staggering--so many great shows, some excellent albums including 3-near masterpieces, his other bands and session work. How many other artists had that kind of output? Then came the retreat into the pipe, and the fall-off ensued. Very sad. At least his/their spooky pinnacle remains on tape.
Thanks again for the article. Now back to work...
Thanks for the comments. The Dead were a very self-aware band, and at least in the first decade, more self-critical than they're usually taken to be. Over the years, I do think their standards (or their willingness to put in the rehearsal work) dropped - already by 1980, Garcia's talking about how they rarely do rehearsals anymore. There was definitely some burnout there.Delete
But from '66 on, this was a band that constantly listened to its own live tapes for improvements. It would be great to hear what went on in the after-show sessions where they played the tape of the show back....something they did for years, and I'm not sure just when they stopped.
Maybe TC was too hard on himself, but given his long list of complaints - he didn't have his own instrument to practice on, couldn't hear himself onstage, didn't like the sound of his organ in any case, kept getting criticized by the others, & felt left out of the musical conversation - it's easy to see why he'd be less than fond of his contributions.
(His recent booklet essay in the new Dave's Picks release presents a much more romanticized picture, though! Ironically, he writes about how things were looking up for him in Dec '69, without a word about how he was ready to quit the band the next month.)
Part of the Dead's balancing act was managing to get equal contributions from everyone, in a group of guys with very different ideas of what should be going on in the music. (In '68 they weren't yet too good at this, hence Weir was at the bottom of the pecking order. Later on they became much more democratic.)
But this meant the Dead weren't what any one member wanted it to be. As Donna put it, "Everyone was judging the evening based on something different" - they could play a perfectly fine show, and all be unhappy about it for different reasons.
But over time, I feel like their shows were getting boiled down to the lowest common denominator - 'what we can all agree on' - as the challenging stuff got filtered out over the years, and the setlist structure became set in stone.
Just want to add my own words of praise for this post in particular and your blog in general. Objective, sound commentary that is very well researched and written to boot!
I'm looking forward to delving deep into your archives!
The 10/26/68 issue of the Schenectady Gazette in NY reported: "The Grateful Dead due to break up in January, according to Bill Graham of the Fillmore East and West." (in Mike Hyland's "In The Groove" column, p.6, which was one of those news & gossip one-line-tidbits columns)ReplyDelete
This is quite interesting; it was probably reported elsewhere too. But it seems out of date - by mid-October, the Dead had patched things up. It also seems like odd news for Bill Graham to give - the Dead had signed with his Millard booking agency in September. Maybe he saw some advantage in announcing their imminent dissolution? Or maybe the band had been grumbling to him, or were still in disarray...
As Tom Constanten said later, he considered himself "unwitting glue to divert attention to allow [them] to solidify their positions... It amazed everybody that anything happened, because there was so much sniping going on. There was always some sort of simmer." (McNally 281)
Thank you for very interesting read. So, the Grateful Dead, in 1968, during the heart of the Vietnam War, set up practice in an Air Base warehouse? How perfect, maybe that's where Jerry got the emotion when he sang the lyric, "I'm Uncle Sam, that's who I am, been hiding out, in a Rock and Roll band!, "ReplyDelete
Now, this Hamilton Air Base in Marin-correct me if I am wrong- years later Bob Weir finds out that his biological Dad was the commander at the same base, correct? Do the time periods in which Bobby's(then unknown) biological Dad was base commander at Hamilton AFB overlap with the period the GD practiced in the Hamilton AFB warehouse? That would be a a heck of a synchronicity.
Well, Weir's father was commanding at Hamilton AFB in the mid-1980s, and retired in Novato. He may have been stationed near Merced sometime in the '60s, but I don't think we know where he was stationed in the late '60s. Perhaps he & Weir shared old memories of Hamilton, though! (The Dead's rehearsal spot was in a warehouse right next to the base.)Delete
The military base actually closed in the mid-'70s, and the site remained in limbo until the late '80s, so Col. Parber would not have had much to command in the '80s! (Presumably being posted there at that point was the equivalent of putting a near-retiree out to pasture.)
See the "Closure" section here:
Thanks. I've only read a couple of articles about Col. Parber, and I could be wrong in recalling that he was mentioned as a one time commander of an airbase in Marin County. Memory slipping and all that!Delete
Howdy, great site.you have here.Delete
I recently ran across a 1969 NY Times article which mentions that Pig, after being let go, was gonna start his own band "The Pigpen Revue" and they would open for the Dead!
Anyone know anything about this?
"Lesh, who had studied with Darius Milhaud before turning to rock, and Hart, who had learned to play in Oriental meters, also made crucial contributions. Weir and Pigpen did not, 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."
That piece was also quoted in this post - I have not heard anything about it elsewhere, though. Maybe it'll surface in some other underground-press article.Delete
Just wanted to thank you for all the thoughtful and insightful pieces on this site.ReplyDelete
Interesting that the Dead were scheduled to play with Fairport Convention around this time --because it wasn't very long afterwards that Fairport was firing one of their founding members, Ian Matthews.ReplyDelete
Apparently the Fairports didn't have the same reticence that the Dead did:
Matthews: "As it was, Joe [Boyd] wanted to move on to phase 3 quickly and sentiments had no place in his plan. I was asked to leave and dumped on the same day. Presuming that he meant soon, I got in the van to go to the show, Ashley [Hutchings] turned to me and said "Where do you think you're going?" Sandy [Denny] bless her, turned to him and said, "You heartless bastard." I got out and away they sped." http://www.richieunterberger.com/matthews.html
(What is it about bass players??)
Hey Light, Take a bow! This is the level some of us on tour discussed the band and their playing at, and only Gans, Jackson and a few others ever bothered trying to really dig into the depths of it all. As someone who's read hundreds of GD interviews, books, etc and saw many many shows, it's a real treat to see someone taking the music and its origins as seriously as we used to. Perhaps obsessively is a better term...but dang, when it was working it was worthy of as much attention and dissection as any of us could ever give it.ReplyDelete
Your writing is excellent, your perceptions accurate, and your understanding of the dynamics of it all highly enjoyable. It's nice to see the blinders coming off the scene about Jer, because deifying his every utterance did no one any good. He was a man like any other, full of faults and full of joys, but he just happened to be a legendary musician. There's no doubt in my mind that his persnickety attitude about the music was a big part of why it became so insanely great some nights, just as it would drive us nuts when he'd nod off on stage and hit his head on the mic---and then most of the fans would say what a wonderful night Garcia had!
To see people looking at from a more complete and holistic perspective is a treat, and bless you for taking the time to do it right. Please consider yourself one of the great assimilators of Dead lore and facts, resulting in what is likely some of the most all-around right on info about the good ol' Grateful Dead.
Thanks for the nice clean dose of intelligence!
Just Another Music Lover
Thanks; I try.Delete
I don't think any of these articles are as good as they could be, but I do what I can. (In some cases, like this one, there's a whole lot of new info in the comments that I'll never have time to incorporate into the article itself!)
By the way, there are very few writers like Gans or Jackson or McNally who had the constant level of access & trust necessary to be able to dig into the depths, do repeated interviews, and know what to ask about. I'm utterly reliant on their work, and without them, secondary writings like this couldn't exist.
I might add, there are plenty of people on various Dead forums with more knowledge about the band & the music than I have. The difference is they don't write it down in any systematic way, and it vanishes with them.Delete
You may remember Garcia's comment on the Dead trying to save the rainforests in '88: "It seems pathetic that it has to be us, with all the other resources out there, but since no one else is doing anything about it, we don't really have any choice."
I feel the same way about these essays. No one else was writing these kinds of things on the band at the depth I wanted to read & thought should exist, so I've tried doing it myself, despite my limitations.
"No one else was writing these kinds of things on the band at the depth I wanted to read & thought should exist, so I've tried doing it myself, despite my limitations."
Actually, you are doing one hell of a job. I've gotten to where I like your site so much that on most days I make a point of visiting it and reading. You have a ton of great stuff and most of it bears rereading -- to say nothing of hunting down and listening to the stuff you include links for.
Although I never got tired of listening to their music, I actually got kind of turned off reading about the Dead sometime in the mid-1990s, perhaps coinciding with the publication of what appeared to be a particularly motivated book, along with a slew of mostly asinine books focused more on the fans than the music. Friends and family know I'm a Deadhead and that they aren't going to find any of their music I don't have, so I seem to get a lot of books, which is nice, but the books sometimes seemed like gibberish to me or more frequently, about the fans and not the music. (I think if you were to do an encyclopedia about the Dead, then Deadheads would warrant one short article in one volume: Anything more would be too much. Although I did see some pretty funny stuff at concerts sometimes . . . .)
I couldn't wait to read Phil's book, bought it the first day, actually, bought 4 copies the first day it came out: It didn't disappoint either. I also read Blair Jackson's "Garcia" (I had read "The Music Never Stopped" when it first came out and it was a favorite of mine). But, other than those, for the last 10 years plus I have pretty much confined my reading to the Taper's Compendiums, Deadbase, etc. Until I found your site, which made me interested in reading about them again.
So, I started reading Bruce McNally's book, which was a gift that had just sat on the shelf for a long time. I'm enjoying that so far, but not nearly as much as I enjoy what you write. I also ordered and read Dead to the Core, which I really enjoyed, but again, not as much as your stuff.
So, when I want to read stuff that is really and truly about the music and that I trust to be very, very discerning, well, . . . you da man!
Or, let me put it this way: If you and I ever get together to listen to the Dead, I'm just going to shut my mouth and let you do all the selecting.
So, if you ever start thinking about your "limitations," let me add a little bit of perspective for you. There is a cognitive distortion/bias called the Dunning-Kruger effect. Basically they have observed that incompetent people rate themselves as being far more competent than they actually are -- basically they have no clue what competence even looks like -- whereas competent people rate themselves as far less competent than they actually are; because they understand the subject so thoroughly they can identify lots of weaknesses in their understanding and performance, areas of ambiguity, etc.
I'm pleased to report to you that you are firmly on the competent side of that phenomenon.
... awesome reply brother!Delete
ON Hartbeats...Jack Casady wouldn't have gone without Jorma....hence the Quartet Talk. Instead of Power Trio.ReplyDelete
The 1968-12-24 Matrix Harvey Mandel Band with Jerry show is about to get an official release on a new Mandel 6-cd "Snake Box"ReplyDelete
Great read, lots of excellent brush strokes painting the picture of band dynamics and personal interactions & thoughts. I actually had no idea about the "firing", so this was very enlightening.ReplyDelete
Thanks again for your stories.
I wrote that according to McNally, the Dead had a show scheduled in mid-September with Frank Zappa in San Jose, but it was canceled at the last minute due to low ticket sales.ReplyDelete
The date was wrong, though - a Zappa gig historian helpfully notified me that the canceled show was actually June 21, at the San Jose Civic Auditorium. (Looks like the Dead would've been opening for the Mothers.)
The show poster:
Not sure why McNally placed the canceled show in mid-September, but at any rate, the Dead only played a handful of shows that month. They could have used the June gig - in the month after the Carousel closed, they only played three or four shows, and the lack of activity (and finances) may have started grumblings in the band.
Then again, there may have been internal bickerings all year. Bill Walker (who painted the cover of Anthem of the Sun) visited the band in early spring '68, "walking in on a particularly acrimonious argument over money, management, or something else, and was greeted by Lesh, who came over and shrugged, 'Well, I guess that's it,' indicating to Walker that the band was breaking up." (McNally p.274) That would have been shortly after Garcia pushed Lesh down the stairs after a show for "not playing"... And as mentioned in a comment above, in late '68 James Doukas (author of the book Electric Tibet) thought the band might break up soon, and talked briefly to Phil: "The Dead were tired of playing bad gigs. The fun of the beginning had drifted in the years of performing. Phil mentioned that it was hard to maintain any consistency of performance with all the fuck-ups that inevitably happen."
But somehow they stayed together.
Bill Kreutzmann's perspective, from his new book, is that there was no real "firing," just a half-hearted attempt:ReplyDelete
"There was a meeting in which some members of the band tried to fire Bobby and Pigpen. I had nothing to do with it. I didn't give it credence and I didn't play into it. But Phil had really been on Bobby's case for whatever reason; he didn't think Bobby could keep up with the band's growth, or he didn't fit into his idea of where it was going, or whatever... In any case, Phil must've been really bothered by something and he brought Jerry into it. Now, Jerry was the most non-confrontational person in the band, so that didn't quite work. Management was briefed on the situation and they called a meeting, and we all sat around and kind of skirted the issue. Nobody could actually come right out and fire them outright. Things were said - but in the end, nothing was decided... Bobby and Pigpen didn't stop showing up and nobody turned them away...
There was chatter in our ranks about approaching another guitarist in our scene - David Nelson - to possibly take over Bobby's spot, should it open up. It was brief and just talk and I didn't feel any of that because I didn't play into it. I didn't think that either Bobby or Pigpen should leave and I was glad when they didn't." (Deal, p.99)
Kreutzmann sees Lesh as the main instigator, pushing Garcia and the band managers into having a confrontation with Weir, which didn't quite work out. We can see the division of opinions here - Lesh doesn't seem to have gotten much support from anybody in pushing Weir out.
What's most interesting to me is that David Nelson was briefly considered for Weir's spot. As it turned out, Nelson would have to wait another year before getting absorbed into the Dead family.
On the other hand, Lesh did succeed in "replacing" Pigpen on keyboard once Tom Constanten was available. Kreutzmann agrees that Pigpen could not keep up with the band's playing, but feels that Constanten was not a good fit either. He doesn't recall just how Constanten was invited to join: "There may have been a band discussion about it, or it may have just been a few people in the band, or it may just have been at Phil's directive."
Like all the other bandmembers who've spoken about it, Kreutzmann was not thrilled by Constanten's contributions to their shows: "He would perform at rehearsals pretty darn well, but then, when we'd be in front of an audience, it was like he froze or something. He just couldn't let go. When things got strange and strayed from form, he couldn't trust the music to lead... That's what jamming is all about... He understood music theory and, in theory, he had a solid foundation for all the avant-garde stuff that we were getting into. But comprehending the concepts and being able to play the parts isn't enough to make you a good musician. You also have to have that feeling... I sometimes wanted to tell T.C., 'Forget everything you know; forget what you learned in school. Forget yourself.'" (Deal, p.100-101)
"As it turns out, we actually have part of this tape, dated 7/28/68"ReplyDelete
Is this from Rancho Olompali? That's what I have but no evidence. They moved out of there in August 1966 but Mickey boarded a horse there afterwards.
It's always been labeled Rancho Olompali, but I don't know why. There's no evidence for the location.Delete
David Gans originally broadcast/distributed it, I believe, so he might've seen the original tape label.
This comment has been removed by the author.Delete
There is some evidence: there are pictures showing Garcia and Casady playing on the platform near the pool at Rancho Olompali. Mickey is not to be seen, but there are 2 sets of drums and even a B 3 is set up.Delete
Maybe the pics just show Garcia and Casady tuning up.
Garcia's hair length and beard match with other pics around that time, so 68-07-28 is very likely the date.
I read an interview somewhere (with Mickey?) that the trio of Garcia, Casady and Hart decided that they needed a singer to complete the act. So they went over to Janis Joplin's place and asked her to join them. She told them to piss off and go back to their own bands. And that's when the trio fell apart.ReplyDelete
I remember an article in Teen Set magazine around '68 talking about guitarists and how great Jerry was, but that it seemed that the band was breaking up with Weir and Pigpen leaving. Teen Set was kind of a teenybopper rag, but they used lots of Jim Marshall's photos of the SF bands. That's where I heard about the "firing" unless Ralph J. Gleason wrote about it in the Chronicle (which I read religiously).
I remember a live broadcast of a Dead show in the early '70's where Pigpen was interviewed and he commented that bands were over and he saw the future as collections of musicians getting together to do shows or tours and then going on to different projects. Maybe the "Pigpen Review" was still on his mind.
Thanks for sharing all this stuff. I grew up with the Dead in a sense as I got their first album in '67 and started seeing them regularly in November '69 at the Family Dog on the Great Highway. I met Jerry in '72 at a Merl Saunders, Tom Fogerty and Jerry show where I shared some reefer and talked pedal steel guitars.
It's funny to think of the Dead being in Teen Set magazine!Delete
It seems like it was pretty open news in late '68 that the Dead were ready to split up - it was reported in lots of places. (Although I don't recall Ralph Gleason writing about it.)
I know Pigpen was interviewed at the 10/4/70 show which was broadcast on TV, though I've never heard that interview. Comments like that were pretty common in the late '60s, about musicians not being locked into bands but getting together in different formations - Hendrix and Garcia each said similar things, for instance.
You might also be interested in these Jefferson Airplane interview comments here:
Where can I find a tape of the August ’68 meeting.Delete
You can't; it's never been made public.Delete
Hi. Grateful Dead played with us The Group Image Band at our shows in New York at our ballroom Palm Gardens, and The Cheetah as well as Saint Marks and Thompkins Square. Arty Schlackman Group Image guitar played came out from New York picked up by Danny, Rock and Cassidy. They were Warlocks then. When they came to New York they stayed with us and we played gigs this was 67. It continued till 69 as we were the New York family.ReplyDelete
I was the singer Sheila Darla. The band was very small then and we were all young and wild. We played all night. Pigpen did his lovelight, little schoolgirl, morning dew. The Group Image was the first multimedia corporation in New York as we had our own office / loft building 83 second avenue . We were the only place to play and all the bands from New York and California played with us. We were tribal pranksters with the suckmobile flowersuck equipment truck, stores light show and the band. We made one album called A Mouth In the Clouds on our own label Community Records. Our xmas shows with the Dead lasted all night long and spilled out to the streets. The record was made under great duress in two days we fought with all the producers. Had to be our way. The song Hiya was done live one take all in the room. We had everyone , the diggers, leary, Hoffman, Ginsberg, warhol. Everyone was in the group image when Bill Graham came he hated us because the Fillmore was our place first and he had to let all the Group Image in for free. Hundreds. We ran out of records, we fell apart there was great sadness across the land. Our bass player came to California and played with country joe. Drummer with Bette milder. I too came out to California still play and ding and have kept i. touch with members of the Dead. It's been great is great still . I feel lucky. ThxReplyDelete
I stumbled over The Group Image recently, when "Hiya" aired on Psychedelicized Web Radio. Had never heard of the group before. I did some Google search and found a few titles on YouTube. The long live version of "Hiya" is really great. What a proto-Punk explosion! And I wondered what became of that expressive singer, Sheila Darla. Some more Google search, and here she is! Well, I also like other songs I found on YouTube, in particular the relaxed "Moonlit Dip".Delete
By the way, have you also met Ira Cohen in those days in NYC? I'm asking because I wrote an article about "The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda".
Greetings from Germany
I love that mimed TV clip of "Hiya." Back in '67 when the Group Image were playing shows with the Dead, their music was apparently more free, noisy & chaotic.Delete
There are a few more tidbits about them & the Dead here:
For curious readers, here's Ira Cohen's psychedelic film "The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda" - the experimental soundtrack (also released on CD) features Angus MacLise and others:
A news blurb from Record World, 10/12/68:ReplyDelete
"Possibly before the end of January, the arrival of the new Grateful Dead LP, now being assimilated by the group in San Francisco. According to all reliable sources, though Warner-7 understandably ain't talking, the album will be FREE. It's something the Dead have wanted to do for a long time, and having done it, the group will probably split. Jerry Garcia is already lining things up for his staff A&R gig for Warners."
Some interesting tidbits here... At the time, the Dead thought Aoxomoxoa might be finished by January! (They'd just started recording in September.) They often made noises at the time about releasing a free album, but that never came to pass. Most intriguing is that the group's impending split-up seems to have been common knowledge, and it's even rumored that Garcia is starting a solo career with Warners! (That would wait three more years.)
The 12/24/68 Jam is the most exciting thing I've ever heard.ReplyDelete
And it's now commercially available, as a bonus disc on the Harvey Mandel "Snake Box":Delete
At the risk of incestuous linking between Dead bloggers, there's an in-depth discussion of the Hartbeats tapes here:ReplyDelete
To add one correction to this post - there's some debate over just where Jack Casady may be playing on 10/8/68. But Phil plays on both Dark Stars on 10/30. I was mistaken about Casady playing on the second one - Deadbase and several Archive reviewers confidently asserted that it's Casady playing, but it sure sounds like Phil to me, unless Casady was doing an uncanny Lesh impersonation.Delete
You say that there is no Elvin Bishop on 10/10/68 but he is there. He sings and plays on "Look On Yonder Wall"ReplyDelete
Elvin plays harmonica? I'm sure that's not him.Delete
"It is only a matter of probably a short time before The Grateful Dead shuffles out Pig Pen and Bob Weir in exchange for a new keyboard man and maybe another guitarist. Pig wants to play The Blues, and that's where the Dead came from but not where they are going."ReplyDelete
(from Jef Jassen's "Record Raps," the Berkeley Barb 10/18/68, p.10)
Once again, the Dead's impending split-up seems to have been common knowledge at the time, reported everywhere! Jassen perhaps had some inside knowledge in reporting that the Dead were thinking of a new keyboard player & guitarist, and that Pigpen was being sidelined for just wanting to play the blues and not keeping up with the Dead's progress.
He'd been to a recent Avalon show (with no Pigpen), and in the same article, gave his opinion of one of the other Avalon acts:
"Linn County (Mercury) for all its hoorah is not very impressive. They were less impressive at the Avalon last weekend. In addition to being too loud, they appear to subscribe to the misconception that for rock music to be good it has to be long. Nothing happens in their instrumental rants."
A couple listings for the Hartbeats shows from the San Francisco Examiner:ReplyDelete
From 10/8/68: "The Grateful Dead and Elvin Bishop, tonight through Thursday at the Matrix."
Note that the paper had no qualms about naming the Dead, despite the upcoming Avalon shows and the small size of the Matrix. No disguise about "Jerry Garcia and Friends" here, but people heading to the Matrix to see the Dead would've been surprised to find, in fact, just Garcia and friends.
And from 10/29/68: "Jerry Garcia (late of the Grateful Dead) and the Crome Syrcus (the group who perform with the Joffrey Ballet) begin a three-night appearance tonight at the Matrix."
Crome Syrcus' presence wasn't previously known, but makes sense since the Matrix typically billed a couple bands each night. What's more interesting is that the Dead are already thought to be defunct, and Garcia now a solo artist!
But the Examiner ran a sort of retraction later on, in the 11/9/68 "Pop Scene" column:
"Rumors on the demise of the Grateful Dead have been greatly exaggerated. They followed the regrouping trend but will keep swinging."
The Examiner wasn't always up-to-date in its pop news, for instance the 11/2/68 "Pop Scene" had reported, "Grateful Dead scheduled for a British promotion tour." This bit of news was only a month out of date...
But sometimes they had their ear to the ground. The 11/16/68 "Pop Scene" reported:
"Grateful Dead has spent the past three months in taping sessions in town and on tour for their forthcoming album to be released after the holidays. One cut completed, “St. Steven,” is one of the best performances I’ve ever heard on record."
As it turned out, Aoxomoxoa would be released LONG after the holidays, after being completely re-recorded; so it's intriguing that St. Stephen would be praised, since the cut he heard (in person? on a radio preview?) is not what would be on the album. I wonder if it's the version later bootlegged, or a take unheard since 1968.
Another news report on the firing!ReplyDelete
This one from Rolling Stone's "Random Notes," 11/23/68:
"One can never be sure what is happening with the Grateful Dead, but for the past two or three months they have been deciding to break up and then not to break up. The latest word from them is that when they begin their next record, Pigpen (Ron McKernan) and Bob Weir (The Kid) will be leaving the group for other parts. They may or may not perform with them. Apparently the difficulty arose out of the new directions the Dead's recording work has taken. Pigpen and Weir were unable to make the change."
This is about as close to an official "firing" announcement as possible. I'd guess that Rolling Stone talked to one of the Dead managers (maybe Rock Scully). Despite the 11/23/68 print date, this issue is reporting on the news of 3 weeks earlier (other articles are about events at the end of October '68), so it was already out of date.
It's still surreal to me that the dismissal of Pigpen & Weir was reported far and wide at the time, and yet...the band just stayed together anyway and brushed the whole incident under the rug. "One can never be sure what is happening with the Grateful Dead," indeed. (See the Examiner's confusion above about whether the Dead had split up or not.)
But it's true that Pigpen didn't appear at all on the album, and Weir's contribution was also minimal. ("The kid" is a good indication of Weir's place in the band's pecking order at the time.) It's quite possible that Constanten's being invited in helped keep them in the band.
Anyway, pardon the late comment...I should've seen this Rolling Stone piece years ago, but must confess I still haven't yet gone through all the early issues for their Dead news tidbits.
You had to write a whole book to say why they got kicked out? SheeshReplyDelete
I can't help but think about this Meeting in the context of the "Two from the Vault" release, which falls squarely into this time period. Why release a show - especially so early in the vault release chronology - that reflects playing by Pigpen and Weir that is considered to be sub-par? Any insights or thoughts would be appreciated.
Time changed their perspective. The playing that annoyed the rest of the Dead in 1968 didn't sound so bad in 1992. The '68 Dead were very picky about any perceived flaws and considered the show unworthy to release; but if any of them listened to Two from the Vault when it was finally released in '92, it probably all sounded like immature juvenilia to them at that point.Delete
"Pigpen and guitarist Bob Weir will be leaving the Grateful Dead soon" -- Martin Arbunich's music column in the CCSF Guardsman, 11/13/68, p. 3. https://archive.org/details/guardsman19681969city/page/n17/mode/2up?q=%22Grateful+Dead%22ReplyDelete
It's funny that this was widely reported, but later sort of swept under the rug....since they didn't actually leave the band. Close call, though!Delete