August 8, 2013

Garcia and Tarot: The Evidence

There is a lot of circumstantial evidence that Jerry Garcia occasionally played with Tom Constanten in 1970, after TC left the Dead and was doing music for the play “Tarot.” There is, however, no specific proof, nothing very firm – even though Garcia is mentioned in several places in connection with Tarot, the evidence tends to evaporate when inspected closely, leaving Garcia still in the shadows, his precise involvement murky.
So this post is meant to gather the evidence we have in one convenient spot, to see what conclusions can be reached.

First, a bit of context from Tom Constanten:
In 1970, “Joe McCord, aka Rubber Duck, had been doing gigs around the Bay Area, and I wound up in the “backup” band to his mime show. The “Rubber Duck Company.” Sometimes I was the entire band. A student of √Čtienne Decroux, he was developing a mime play at the time, based on the characters in the Tarot. The “ride” then moved to New York, and I went along…”

From TC’s book Between Rock & Hard Places:
“I found myself rehearsing what was to become Tarot with musicians like Peter Rowan, Richard Greene, and Mickey Hart. There were even a few gigs around the Bay Area, playing behind the show’s driving force, mime Joe McCord… Ron Wilson and David Garthwaite (brother of Terry) managed to find time off from the Joy of Cooking to join us a few times. Don Buchla even sat in with us, with his ‘Buchla box’ synthesizer, one night at Mandrake’s in Berkeley. By late fall, 1970, the show was ready to take to New York – there was a commitment from the Chelsea Theater Center in Brooklyn to mount it…
The musicians that went East to do Tarot included Gary ‘Chicken’ Hirsch, of Country Joe & the Fish fame…Paul Dresher, guitarist/flutist/sitarist/and musican extraordinaire - it's been a delight to watch his career unfold since; Wes Steele, bassist…Jim Byers, a Michael Lorimer guitar student; the peripatetic violinist, Art Fayer; and myself on keyboards. The troupe was known as the Rubber Duck Company, so naturally enough we were the Rubber Band…
Village Voice reviewer Carman Moore came to see Tarot during the run in Brooklyn (with Berio, whom I remember faintly applauding) and described the mix as ‘magical’… The run at the Chelsea Theater Center was for a fixed duration, but there was some interest generated in moving the show to Manhattan. What that meant to us what a series of showcase performances (for potential backers), and a few reprises of the mime/music show [including] at the Village Gate… Just when it looked like we were all set to move the show into the Circle in the Square on Bleecker Street…one of the major backers suddenly and inexplicably pulled out. The remaining producer, Richard Fields…got United Artists Records to make up the difference as part of an ‘original cast album’ deal.” (p.84-5)
The band changed their name to Touchstone, and recorded the Tarot album in 1971:

TC does not mention any Garcia involvement with Tarot; but he’s not writing about every detail. (In fact, any precise details about the performances are scanty in his book; the narrative is vague on dates and mixes the story with reminiscences of various people he met. He does tend to mention the musicians he played with, though.)

The evidence connecting Garcia and Tarot follows:

1. An ad for Mandrake’s in Berkeley lists the Rubber Duck Mime Band & Jerry Garcia as playing on June 2-3, 1970.
(Other scholars, though, have concluded that these were NRPS shows.)

The Rubber Duck Company (with Constanten) also opened for the Grateful Dead at the Euphoria Ballroom on July 14 & 16.

It’s ironic that while Constanten wrote about other guests sitting in at Mandrake’s, including Don Buchla, he didn’t mention Garcia! But besides TC, Garcia would also have known the Rubber Band drummer Gary “Chicken” Hirsch, who had been with Country Joe & the Fish – and he was quite familiar with Rubber Duck himself:

2. In the comments to the JGMF post, Joe McCord (aka “Rubber Duck”) wrote: “I worked with Jerry for quite a while… Jerry did play with us on many occasions. I personally toured with the Dead as their opening act. Jerry, & Mickey Hart, & Tom Constanten, joined with my band to fill it out. Jerry also played with my play "TAROT" first in Berkeley, & later in the Academy of Music, Brooklyn & the Circle In The Square in New York… Jerry played both pedal & guitar with me. I also opened for them at the Hollywood Bowl… Played with Jerry & Mickey in The Boston Tea Party & Cafe Au GoGo in New York, as well.”

His memories are somewhat non-specific. But as it happens, one person on who attended an October ’69 Boston Tea Party show wrote: “I remember that between sets there was a mime/music improv that involved a mime (I do not know who he was) with Jerry, Mickey and TC doing improv music behind him. It was different, strange and weirdly engaging.”
(The Dead played the Café au Go Go the same week, so perhaps McCord was on tour with them.)
The Rubber Duck Co. had been billed as a Dead opener as far back as the August 29-30, 1969 Family Dog shows. (However, there's some debate about whether it was replaced by the band Phoenix.)
McCord was probably also the mime who opened for the Dead at the 11/23/70 Anderson Theatre show. (At least, there’s no better candidate!) It’s difficult to locate him at other shows since he would not have been billed.

Constanten wrote, “I found myself rehearsing what was to become Tarot with musicians like Peter Rowan, Richard Greene, and Mickey Hart” – this confirms that Hart, at least, was working with the Rubber Duck band at this point (while he was still playing with the Dead), and McCord agrees on this point. Greene & Rowan were then in the band Seatrain; McCord also remembered more vaguely, “I collaborated with Sea Train with Richard Greene & Peter Rowan.”
Both Greene & Rowan would later be in Old & In The Way, however I don’t think Garcia was friends with Rowan yet – the Rowans had been in New York and didn’t move to the area until fall 1970. However, if Hart was also involved, it seems likely Garcia would have joined in these rehearsals if invited.

3. Paul Dresher first played with the Rubber Duck Company at the Euphoria Ballroom shows in July 1970. He was interviewed by 21st Century Music in 2000 about his history, and revealed more of the origin of the band:

"I was replacing Jerry Garcia, actually, in this band... The band was called The Rubber Duck Company. They used to open for The Grateful Dead... We were having a show produced at the Brooklyn Academy of Music... So I moved to Brooklyn to do the show, and lived in total, abject poverty. But I was having fun… So we did the show for five or six weeks at the Brooklyn Academy. The band was made up of a lot of people who had been successful in bands like Joy of Cooking, Country Joe and the Fish, and Sea Train... Tom Constanten was the keyboard player and leader of the band… Tom left the Dead in 1970, and then formed The Rubber Duck Company to do this music-theater piece. How the new band began was that Tom, Mickey Hart, and Jerry Garcia would improvise with this mime – between Grateful Dead sets or as an opening set. And the mime, Joe McCord, had a street-theater piece... So this new band was being formed for Joe’s theater piece, and it was really time for Tom to leave the Dead, because he was really not fitting, and the Dead wanted to rock more... So Tom was the composer for Rubber Duck when I got in the band, but I started writing some of the music for the show, too... There’s an album. There’s a vinyl LP out there, which is actually in the Grateful Dead history books as a weird offshoot of their activities."
(For more, see the Appendix.)

So this confirms a lot of Joe McCord's account. It also appears that Garcia may have been the regular guitar player for the Rubber Duck band's appearances up until Dresher joined in July 1970. So here's one point where Constanten fails us, not mentioning the early improv sets at all; but since Dresher, McCord, and a Boston witness all recall them, we know they happened.

4. In March 1971, Circus magazine printed an interview with Garcia from November 1970. They wrote: “Recently Jerry has been playing music for a play called Tarot presented by the Chelsea Theatre Company in Brooklyn.” (In another paragraph, it’s said he’s “helping with the music” for the play.)

The play isn’t mentioned in the actual interview, so we don’t know how they knew about it, whether by sighting or rumor, or maybe a Garcia comment that didn’t make print.
There is a difficulty here – as far as I know, Tarot didn’t start showing until December. (The Chelsea Theater Center apparently ran it from December 12-20, and I don’t know of showings before that.) By then, Garcia was back in California!
Nonetheless, since Garcia was in New York through much of November, he would certainly have had the chance to meet with Constanten (who’d moved there in October or November). Constanten wrote that there were Tarot rehearsals & auditions after he arrived in New York. There may have been rehearsals Garcia could attend, or earlier showings I don’t know about.
Of course the Dead had plenty of their own shows to play. But if the chance was available, there seems no reason Garcia wouldn’t sit in, if Constanten invited him. Garcia was always insatiable for more opportunities to play. (Recall that Garcia and the New Riders, between a Nov 23 show in NYC and a Nov 27 show in Chicago, played a Nov 25 show at the Keystone Korner in San Francisco! There was also a “Garcia & Friends” show advertised at the Matrix on October 26, in-between the Dead’s St Louis & Stony Brook shows.) And we do have, at least, an almost certain sighting of Joe McCord at the Dead's 11/23/70 show.

There is one most likely source for the Circus article's claim:

5. Garcia is listed as a guest in the Tarot program from December 1970 -
“Electric Lead Guitar and Pedal Steel – Jerry Garcia (when he can)”
The front page of the program even lists him prominently as one of the composers!

Of course, Garcia’s being listed on the program doesn’t actually prove that he ever sat in. Maybe he showed up at some point in November and made a vague promise to drop in later, never fulfilled… Paul Dresher failed to mention ever actually playing with Garcia at a Tarot show. But even if Garcia never showed or contributed anything, the Tarot company knew that mentioning his name might sell a few more tickets!

Carman Moore’s review of Tarot in the Village Voice said, “The playing was not terribly tight... When Jerry Garcia joins the band, this assessment may have to change.” So at least one reviewer took Garcia to be joining the show at some future date. I get the feeling Garcia’s name was being dangled as a promotional gimmick – it’s unlikely he would fly back to New York just to play for a musical! At least, he was never spotted.

6. Outtakes said to be from the Tarot sessions including Garcia, Lesh & Hart have circulated for some time. I’ve been skeptical that Garcia was involved in these at all – yet Michael Parrish wrote: “The Tarot sessions including Garcia, Lesh, Hart, and Richard Greene [were] taped off of KSAN in 1970, when TC visited their studios. He was the one who rattled off the names of the players, although I did not record his interview. What circulates now includes some other tracks of questionable provenance that may have included Touchstone, the group with which TC recorded the Tarot album.”

We have two sets of music online – first, the long-familiar “Tarot Outtakes” which are filler tracks here:
Most of the tracks are strictly classical pieces done by a string section, with no band involvement. I would guess this is some other set of music entirely that slipped into our tapes. There are only three band outtakes: the first two “Tarot outtake” tracks – one instrumental with a full band, and one piece with harpsichord/electric guitar/bass – and another isolated outtake (track 17) that’s also classical in style, with a range of instruments (flute, piano & band). Lastly, track 33 is a long avant-garde collage of sounds, a string section & piano bangings, which sounds like Constanten’s work. If these were all included in TC’s broadcast, he may have been playing a variety of selections, not all of them from the Tarot project.

There’s also another set labeled “Tarot Music” which supposedly features “Garcia, Lesh, Constanten, Hart, & Greene.”

This has four brief instrumentals with acoustic guitar, pedal steel, piano & violin (and very limited bass & drum). They’re in a very different style from the other Tarot outtakes and don’t sound like the same musicians at all.

As a comparison, here are a couple tracks from the actual Tarot album, which was recorded in 1971 with the regular Touchstone band. (This was all I could find for now.)
The Chariot Space Voyage / The Star - (at the start, this sounds pretty similar to the first outtakes)
The Moon / The Old Fool’s Reel -

The Rubber Band, as you can see in the program credits, already featured “classic guitar,” violin, and electric guitar, flute & pedal steel (played by Paul Dresher). There doesn’t seem to be any need to credit any other guest players on our outtakes. And yet, Constanten does list a 1970 demo session with Richard Greene in his TCBase; and he did apparently also name Garcia, Lesh & Hart when he broadcast some tapes on KSAN. That said, there’s no telling just which tracks he was referring to. If the broadcast was in 1970, it would date from an early phase of Tarot (which evolved as a play later on in New York).

There is also the issue that Tarot music was very “composed,” and wouldn’t seem to lend itself to Garcia’s free-flowing jamming style – if any jams at all. This is not so much a concern earlier in 1970 – I can imagine Garcia, Constanten, Hart & co. having a jam session on the Mandrake’s stage, like they’d done at the Boston Tea Party – but by the time Tarot was being recorded or presented onstage, Garcia would seem to be limited to strict sideman parts with little scope for improv. How eager would he be for that role?

Constanten’s TCBase provides some useful info:
It lists undated performances by the Rubber Duck Company at Mandrake’s in Berkeley in 1970. (Multiple bandmembers are listed – two guitarists, drummers & violinists, and three bassists. There was an ever-changing band membership, so they were all lumped together in this list, along with some guest players. Note that David Garthwaite & Ron Wilson, sitting in from the Joy of Cooking, are included – Joe McCord also remembered their involvement.)
TC also lists a “Tarot Demo Session” at Pacific High Recorders that year, including “Harlequin” and “Maiden Waltz” with Richard Greene on violin. Another Tarot Demo Session is listed as taking place in Albany, California that year.
The Tarot musical is listed as starting at Brooklyn’s Chelsea Theater Center in December.
Garcia’s name is not listed anywhere in these Rubber Duck entries. Whether it’s because Constanten omitted him, or felt his involvement was too minimal to mention, it’s hard to say.

After the Brooklyn run ended, Tarot performances resumed at Manhattan’s Circle in the Square theater in March ’71, extending into April.
Blair Jackson wrote in an article on TC: “I had the good fortune to see Tarot performed twice at the Circle-in-the-Square Theatre (both nights before Dead shows at Manhattan Center) [April 4-6], and can attest to the magical spell it cast on audiences with its eclectic music – played by T.C., former Country Joe & the Fish drummer Chicken Hirsch, multi-instrumentalist Paul Dresher (now a big name in avant-garde circles), violinist Art Fayer, and guitarist Jim Byers – and enchanting, dreamlike flow.” (Golden Road, Summer 1984, p.24)
Note that Garcia still hadn't shown up...

When Constanten sat in with the Dead on 4/28/71, he was recording the Tarot album at Electric Lady Studios in New York. He later recalled, “I was in New York finishing the recording of Tarot. I didn’t even go to the Fillmore East with the idea of playing. I just went to visit Pigpen and the others. I was backstage at the Fillmore East and the next thing I knew I was sitting down at the keyboard.” (from the Sandy Troy interview, One More Saturday Night p.162)
That was the last time he played with Garcia.

The Tarot album was meant to be a double-album, but was cut down to a single. The Touchstone band headed back to California later that year (with some changes in personnel) with high hopes of recording another album, or playing more music. As Constanten reports in his book, their plans ended in disappointment.
From the Pooterland interview, TC concludes the Touchstone story:
“Touchstone moved to Los Angeles after the NYC Tarot run. Michael Butler, whose show Hair was running (and raking it in) in six cities at the time, was contemplating taking Tarot on. When that project ran into problems, he came up with a concept for a musical version of Frankenstein, and signed me to do the music. Aside from preparing for that, Touchstone did a few shows as an instrumental band in California. United Artists Records was cool to instrumental bands, though, so they didn’t promote the album a whole lot. The fact that the show didn’t catch fire during the New York run didn’t help. So the second album our contract mentioned (and we had material for) evaporated into the fog on the Hollywood hills.”

Joe McCord seems to have had some hard feelings about how it turned out. Commenting on one of the youtube clips, McCord wrote, “Touchstone’s first name was the RUBBER BAND. Tom Constanten sabotaged TAROT, on the orders of the Church Of Scientology.” Then Chicken Hirsch replied: “What the fuck Duck. Tom busted his ass for the project. I was there and I didn't see no sabotage.”
The point of this is not to bring up old disputes, but it reminds us that if the guys who were in the band disagree on what happened, how much can we figure out by relying on the few scraps available on the internet?

This is what we’re left with, for now:
1. An ad for shows with Garcia & the Rubber Duck band. Scholars dispute that they took place, but I think they did.
2. Joe McCord says Garcia played with the Rubber Duck band quite a bit. Constanten doesn’t say a word about it.
3. Paul Dresher confirms that Garcia was the original guitarist for the Rubber Duck band, and that it started out as a Dead opening act & expanded from there. But he does not mention Garcia participating in the Tarot play.
4. The Tarot program lists Garcia as a possible guest player. But he was in California when the play was actually running. (Contemporary news references to his involvement still give no details as to how he contributed; they seem to be just taken from the program.)
5. Constanten apparently did mention Garcia as a player in some outtakes or demos he played on the radio. But we don’t know which outtakes they are; it’s impossible to identify him.

Hopefully, more precise information will come to light in the future! But it looks like, despite Garcia’s presence in so many of our sources, his actual collaboration in Tarot may have been small.
My current theory is that the Rubber Duck Company started or entered the Dead orbit sometime in summer or fall 1969, as Garcia, Constanten & Hart would improvise & back mime McCord as an opener for their sets. By mid-1970, the Rubber Duck outfit was performing independently, and Garcia would sometimes participate in their shows. Once another guitarist joined, he dropped out. While in New York in November 1970, he met McCord again, may have played a little with the Rubber Band, and may have agreed to guest in the Tarot play when he could; and his name was happily added to their program. However, most likely he never appeared.

* * *


An excerpt from Paul Dresher's interview in the May 2000 issue of 21st Century Music.

DRESHER: I applied to Cal Arts the year it opened, and I got into Cal Arts the same time that I got into a very "big" band - a band that was doing stuff. I was replacing Jerry Garcia, actually, in this band.
ALBURGER: What was the band's name?
DRESHER: The band was called The Rubber Duck Company. They used to open for The Grateful Dead... So that was a big opportunity. I had to decide whether to go to Cal Arts, or take this gig with the band and move to New York. We were having a show produced at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
ALBURGER: And you were 19.
DRESHER: Yes. So I moved to Brooklyn to do the show, and lived in total, abject poverty. But I was having fun… So we did the show for five or six weeks at the Brooklyn Academy. The band was made up of a lot of people who had been successful in bands like Joy of Cooking, Country Joe and the Fish, and Sea Train.
ALBURGER: Anyone we would have heard of?
DRESHER: Tom Constanten was the keyboard player and leader of the band… Of course, Tom has a very, very unusual musical history.
ALBURGER: He does, indeed, and he has some Mills associations, too.
DRESHER: Yes. Before he joined The Grateful Dead, he had been at Darmstadt for four years, and studied with Henri Pousseur and Boulez and Berio. In fact, Berio came to one of our shows in New York in 1970.
ALBURGER: And Tom had a connection with Steve Reich.
DRESHER: Yes, and he had a connection to that whole music community at Mills.
ALBURGER: And the other Grateful Dead member –
DRESHER: Phil Lesh. So Tom had been in Europe, and Phil got into the Grateful Dead, and Phil said to Tom, “You have to come be in this band.” Tom was always the odd man out, because his musical world was really not dance music. Tom’s world was the serious contemporary classical-music world. In fact, much of that unusual music in the Dead’s second album, Anthem of the Sun – all the prepared-piano passages and all the weird electronics – is Tom.
ALBURGER: And of course, Tom didn’t stay for the long haul.
DRESHER: Tom left the band in 1970, and then formed The Rubber Duck Company to do this music-theater piece. How the new band began was that Tom, Mickey Hart, and Jerry Garcia would improvise with this mime – between Grateful Dead sets or as an opening set. And the mime, Joe McCord, had a street-theater piece.
ALBURGER: Was he part of the San Francisco Mime Troupe?
DRESHER: No, this was very different. So this new band was being formed for Joe’s theater piece, and it was really time for Tom to leave the Dead, because he was really not fitting, and the Dead wanted to rock more, they were getting less psychedelic. Well, they always stayed psychedelic, but… So Tom was the composer for Rubber Duck when I got in the band, but I started writing some of the music for the show, too. So that was my entry into the commercial-music world.
ALBURGER: The name of the show was?
DRESHER: Tarot, based on the tarot cards. There’s an album. There’s a vinyl LP out there, which is actually in the Grateful Dead history books as a weird offshoot of their activities.
ALBURGER: So you’re part of that weird offshoot of the Grateful Dead output.
DRESHER: Well, I was, at a very early age. And I do have to admit that Jerry Garcia was my inspiration for a number of years.
ALBURGER: As a guitarist.
DRESHER: And for what the Dead did, in terms of where they would go sonically. As much as people like to disparage the Dead, magic things happened. Things happened on stage that were clearly unlike anything that had ever happened in rock and roll, before or since: the feedback, just dealing with the ambience of the moment, making transitions and going places that were very special. That’s part of why people love that band. Performances were very unpredictable. Even before the death of Jerry, I hadn’t seen the Dead for a number of years. But I’ve seen the Dead be completely boring and awful, and then I’ve seen moments that were astonishing. Sometimes in the same set! That was part of the whole Grateful Dead experience.
ALBURGER: You’d hang around long enough, and you’d see the face of God. But sometimes it was a long hangout.
DRESHER: Sometimes it was really boring…

ALBURGER: Jumping ahead, there you were in New York doing Tarot, and that wasn’t going anywhere for you.
DRESHER: Spiritually, it was completely empty. Plus, we did an instrumental record. Well, nobody did an instrumental pop music record back in 1970… It was pretty fringe pop. Pop culture never accepted it. Rubber Duck was not commercially successful. We had Tarot, which was successful as an Off-Broadway show. We did the soundtrack album. It was an instrumental piece. It was all instrumental; no story on the LP. United Artists signed it, and the person who signed us immediately got fired. So we were orphaned, and we got passed off to someone else in the company. Even before the record came out, our A&R contact out of L.A. didn’t have a clue who we were and had no interest in this weird thing. We couldn’t even get them to answer our phone calls.
ALBURGER: You got buried.
DRESHER: Yes, buried. And that was a very, very, very good education about how that world worked; what were the values of the people I was dealing with.
ALBURGER: Did any of that provide experience for running your own ensemble?
DRESHER: Well, I’ve always naturally been inclined towards being the bandleader. When the band came back to the Bay Area, we really changed. We lost the drummer. Tom and I and the bass player came back, and auditioned drummers, and in fact, met the drummer I work with now. We added another guitar player (we had a violin in the band originally) and started gigging around in clubs. We were an instrumental band playing in dance clubs, playing in 17/8 time signatures and 10/4, and it wasn’t going to make it. But the record came out, and we did some dates, and we quickly realized, “This is not happening,” and we just wanted to play the music, and we just wanted to jam. We started doing these extended jams that were sort of half Grateful Dead, half Mahavishnu Orchestra. Pretty soon it dissipated into just having fun. It wasn’t about making any money. That was right when I was hanging out at Mills College. That’s when I really hooked up with a whole different group of people, and I realized instantly, “These are people who are doing music for the same reasons I’m doing it.” …

* * *


Here are two reviews of the “Tarot” musical. One person who saw it has told me “it was not for the straight crowd”…

‘Tarot’ Features Songs by Yolande Bevan
Mime Is an Ingredient of Brooklyn Staging
By Clive Barnes

Pretentiousness is rioting at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where last night the Chelsea Theater Center ill-advisedly opened a musical called “Tarot.”
“Tarot” has been conceived by The Rubber Duck. The Rubber Duck is a man and The Rubber Duck is the name by which he wishes to be known in his professional capacity. You might imagine that anyone who wished to be called The Rubber Duck – even in a professional capacity – was in a certain amount of difficulty.
“Tarot” is a musical composed by Tom Constanten, Chicken Hirsch of Country Joe and the Fish and, among others, Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. Most of the singing is by Yolande Bevan, and musically this is a moderately distinguished show. Close your eyes, forget The Rubber Duck and his ludicrous staging, and just go with the music and you may have a decent time. An original cast album would doubtless prove a mild pleasure. But the show itself is tedious, pompous, inefficient and amateurish.
The musical is based on the fortune-telling game of Tarot – a card game which I once learned about while exploring T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” but I now completely forget. This musical succeeded in bringing nothing back to me. Indeed I didn’t understand what was happening from the beginning to the end, and truth to tell after the first ten minutes I did not care.
There are no words; it is a mime or dance musical. It has been staged by Mr. Duck and Robert Kalfin. Its chief merits are that one or two of the performers are virtuosos of the soap bubble. One of them can even put smoke in a soap bubble. It is quite lovely and – the music apart – the nearest point the whole evening came to approaching any even evanescent artistic statement.
As mimes or dancers the performers seemed innocent of anything so vulgar as technique. Messrs. Duck and Kalfin will not I suspect make a very favorable name for themselves as choreographers. Their corporate idea of movement, dance, mime and all points East appeared to be enthusiastic but puerile. Occasionally one could see what they were trying to do, and on such occasions it would have been inhuman not to have sympathized. But it is not in everyone to produce an evening of even modest theater, and the will should not always be confused with the way.
This is a lame Rubber Duck of a show – Mr. Duck incidentally parades through it trying to look a morceau like Marceau and failing dismally – so don’t let us talk about it any more. Bubbles, bubbles, toils and troubles – but the music was fine.
Much more important was a note in the program. It read: “Pending funds being made available, as of the printing of this program the Chelsea Theater Center of Brooklyn will be forced to suspend operations for the current season after the final performance of ‘Tarot’ on Dec. 20, 1970.” Now this should not be allowed to happen. [ … ]
It is the solitary professional drama company in New York City based outside of Manhattan and it has a handsome, resident home. It simply must not be allowed to die. Why do all the New York arts have to be in Manhattan? Even when the Chelsea Theater fails – as it does with “Tarot” – it fails interestingly. And when it succeeds a whole forest grows in Brooklyn.

(New York Times, 12/12/70)

By Carman Moore

[ Part of a longer article on the new “rock musical.” ]
…With the Incredible String Band’s “U”…the pure fantastical-mystical impulses of the rock community got up on stage and led the way into the area of abstract intermedia explored over the last decade by the avant-garde classical people and Happeners. This last week I twice witnessed a link in that chain of abstraction – once under the influence and once out from under at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. It is still running and is called “Tarot” by its author-star Rubber Duck and composer-pianist Tom Constanten, once of the Grateful Dead.
Clive Barnes also saw it – I know not in what condition – but he heaped fire and brimstone upon this little, gentle mime-plus-music account of how some medieval figures with names like the Fool, the Philosopher, Perfection, the White and Black Magicians (guess who represented villainy), Death (she’s a woman), and the Tree of Life work the Fool’s (mankind) birth, education, death, and re-absorption into Nature. I mention Mr. Barnes only to note how mixed-media can never be the same to both the music-centered and the visual-centered attendant. Let me opine that stoned, the mix in “Tarot” is magical, although either way the narrative progresion is inscrutable without the score card and/or religious training in occult mysteries. “Tarot’s” linear inscutability may point to the fact that music dominates the mix. I like music, but I felt that a major problem of the piece is that it fails to touch the life of the viewer very often. Sure, we are all sort of Fools thrown into this world, set upon by some bad times, and tossed between our own good and evil impulses, but what about race, Vietnam, money, and alienation? What do I care about the Devil and the death of a Fool in an Existential world?
Much, however, is beautiful about “Tarot.” In beauty and performer commitment it far outsrips “U” and is more consistently interesting than “Tommy.” Especially fresh here is the fact that rock musicians using all kinds of music, most of it instrumental, guide the listener through a wider set of emotional changes than I have witnessed popular music to do in a long time. The playing was not terribly tight, although drummer Chicken Hirsch, once of Country Joe, seemed on top of everything, and Yolanda Bavan sang solidly on the second night. When Jerry Garcia joins the band, this assessment may have to change. There are no individually important pieces. Nonetheless the music does take your head on a real transport.
Dramatically I was knocked out by several scenes – the visitation of a gorgeous lady called Perfection to earth, the Philosopher’s erotic encounter with the Tree of Life, the good and bad musicians’ vying for the ear of the Fool, and the snarling performance of the Devil’s woman as she exhorts her old man to kill the Fool. Otherwise, I guess I’d like my Tarot cards to inform me a little about your and my life here upon Earth (no matter how gently, allegorically, and beautifully) – advise us how to deal with Nixon.
They will be setting up in Manhattan soon. With a re-address to the piece I think a stunning rock adventure would come to fruition. Broadway shows, after all, will prune and re-write for a year in San Francisco before coming to Manhattan proper, so why not a piece so potentially lovely as “Tarot.” At any rate, rock is probably going to be mixing it up until a special new art form reaches the masterpiece-capability stage. If “Tarot” does not, another piece will.

(Village Voice, 12/17/70) (p.52)


  1. I would say that his contribution is limited to possibly helping with arrangements, and allowing his name to be used in vague connection with the music, to possibly help ticket sales. Maybe he even rehearsed with the band. You did a great job compiling the evidence but at this point the assumption must be (until any new evidence surfaces) that he never played live with this group.

  2. Let me second Dr. Jeff here in saying that you have done an excellent job of tying together the somewhat disparate strings here. It's very useful to have them all in one place. I do have a few factual tidbits to add.

    I had initially dismissed the idea that Garcia had much to do with Rubber Duck or Touchstone, and had figured that any references to him playing with either band were hype, but now I am not so sure. As the reference to the October '69 Boston Tea Party shows, there are some clear sightings of Garcia playing with Joe McCord, so it isn't all mistaken memories.

    One thing to consider is that in 1969, Garcia was still hungry to jam, and appears to have sat in with all sorts of people. He liked playing sessions, going to the Monday night Matrix jam, hanging out at the Family Dog, and so on. Garcia's solution was to form regular, if informal group--the Wales/Kahn/Vitt band at The Matrix and the New Riders. What that meant was that he had less time and less need to sit in with more casual partners. The timeline fits the Rubber Duck story. The times he jammed with them seemed to be late '69/early '70. By the time the end of 1970 comes along, Garcia is playing regularly at The Matrix and with the New Riders, so he has less need to sit in with others.

    My first additional fact is that Seatrain, with Richard Greene and Peter Rowan, was initially based in the Bay Area in late 1969, and then they appear to have moved to Cambridge, MA. I have a Richard Greene post coming up that will explain it, but the essence of it is that Greene and Rowan would have been around the Bay Area in late '69 to connect with "Rubber Duck," and later to join in with New York recording sessions. I agree that Peter Rowan had not met Garcia at that point, the connection would have been a more casual Bay Area music connection.

    My second fact is that way back in the mid-80s, I was friends with a bass player for Rubber Duck, namely Tom Glass. Tom is aka the artist Ned Lamont, and was an old Berkeley hand, playing with the Jazz Mice, Dancing Food And Entertainment and other ensembles. He told me about playing with Rubber Duck in 1969 (he told me "Rubber Duck was a mime named Joe," which turned out to be so), and Tom is listed in the Constanten gig list linked above. Tom mentioned nothing about playing with Garcia--he would have, I discussed the subject with him at length, and played him the Touchstone album, much to his astonishment--so I can at least assert comfortably that Garcia may have played with Rubber Duck on occasion, but hardly always.

    1. Thanks for the extra tidbits!

      While this post focused on Garcia's whereabouts, one thing I wondered about was just what Constanten was up to between his last Dead show, and the next known Rubber Duck Band appearance in June 1970. Was Constanten working with McCord steadily from the time he left the Dead?
      McCord's activities seem to be barely documented. Constanten's gig-list, for instance, has the Rubber Duck Company playing at the Fillmore West sometime in 1970...when was that, I'd like to know? They seem to be the kind of act that almost never had a billing, but just showed up as an unannounced opener.
      McCord most likely floated around, opening at Dead shows occasionally, and with different members in the Rubber Duck Band depending on who was available or interested. (Tom Glass, for instance, is cited in the gig-list in a period when the band's composition was ever-changing, and I'd bet a number of those people in the Rubber Duck list never played with each other.) Constanten's first quote in this post was that "sometimes I was the entire band"!

  3. Guitarist Jim Byers writes that Garcia did not play with Rubber Duck at the New York Tarot performances:
    "Definitely not. I was at all performances and he never was there. Joe McCord and I were the original Rubber Duck, classical guitar and pantomime. Joe and I started doing our mime classical guitar act at the Family Dog on the Great Highway. Chet Helms liked what we were up to and we became regulars there. We could go on between sets. That's how it started. Joe knew the Dead because his wife Anne Moore used to live on Perry Lane with Kesey. Joe had this concept of a theater. I knew Richard Greene of the Sea Train and we would gig with them separately, and we would sometimes play with part of the Dead at their gigs. Mickey, T.C. and Jerry worked out some numbers with us. It was about pantomime and music. We also knew the Joy of Cooking and would sometimes integrate our concept with Ron Wilson and David Garthwaite. So you see we were playing often with different groups. When we started rehearsing for a play Richard Greene, Peter Rowan, Jerry, Mickey, and TC would play together. Interesting also is that several of us were acting in the play as well. I think that is how Old and In the Way came to be. There was a reel to reel demo tape done at a studio with Jerry, Micky, TC, Richard and Peter. I had a copy but it was stolen."

    Thanks to Jim for the info!
    This confirms that Garcia, Hart & TC were involved (at least sometimes) with McCord's performances in the period before Tarot came together. Greene & Rowan were in SF with Seatrain from fall '69 to spring '70, which is exactly the period when Garcia was dabbling with the Rubber Duck performances. Though Old & in the Way didn't form til years later, it's interesting to see that Garcia was already playing with both Greene & Rowan at this time. And it's fascinating to learn there was a studio demo tape! (How close it was to our "Tarot outtakes" tapes is unknown.)

  4. Brett Champlin of the Devil's Kitchen Band (who were the Family Dog "house band") writes:
    "Garcia and other members of the band recorded tracks for the play for several months on and off in San Francisco. I know because he called up my band, Devil's Kitchen, and asked a couple of us to come and jam with him and work out some music for a play that some friends of his were doing called "the Tarot". I don't remember exactly when but it had to be early in 1970. Never heard of the tapes from that session again. But I seem to vaguely recall him saying something about this was just the start of it and they were going to do some more sessions later..."

    This is fascinating news - it confirms that Garcia was working on the music for Tarot, rehearsing arrangements, bringing in other musicians, even recording demos sometime in 1970.

    It seems to me he was involved with this in mid-'70 but dropped out sometime by the fall - maybe because the Rubber Duck band was getting more solid with new members, or they were going to New York, or because he was getting too busy between the Dead/NRPS/jamming with Howard Wales/recording American Beauty & Crosby's album...

  5. Did any of you Deadheads get any footage of the Hollywood Bowl, where I opened for the Dead? A very memoriable day for me.

  6. I thought I might start contributing a little to this conversation, perhaps adding support for a few assertions or facts in question. Moving forward in time, while I have said and perhaps others as well, that I replaced Jerry Garcia in the Rubber Duck Company (the group started and led by mime Joe McCord) sometime in 1970, in fact, Glen Frendel, guitarist and producer extraordinaire, was the immediate replacement for Jerry Garcia in the band (after those demo tapes with Richard Greene were made). Glen and I played together a great deal in those days, he was a technical monster on guitar and a close musical colleague. And in fact, Glen played the Mandrakes show that some think Jerry Garcia also played. I was there, and Garcia did NOT play that evening (I would have remembered that well, as at that point, Jerry was my greatest guitar hero and the Dead my favorite band) While Garcia’s name might have been in the marketing for the show, he didn't play that show, Glen did.)

    Around that time, Glen asked me if I would like to take his place in the Rubber Duck Company. I can't remember precisely why he didn't want the gig, could have been lots of good reasons (he might not have wanted to move to NY, where the Tarot show was going to be produced) but I jumped at this very generous opportunity, auditioned (I have no recollection of the audition I'm sad to say) and got the gig.

    And as the article above notes, I played my first show with the band on July 14 & 16 at the Euphoria Ballroom in San Rafael. As I recall, the sequence of sets those evenings were 1) Acoustic Dead; 2) New Riders of the Purple Sage 3) Rubber Duck Company/Joe McCord Mime; 4) Electric Dead.

    As I was playing in the same stage as my greatest heroes that evening, my memories of those evenings are still rather vivid. I remember Janis Joplin singing “Turn On Your Love Light” with Pig Pen and ending the evening so smashed she had to be practically carried out by (I think) John Dawson of the New Riders. Also backstage were most of the Jefferson Airplane and other members of Big Brother. At one point in our set, I was doing a feedback guitar solo, bent down in front of my amp, and Janis came over and winked at me. Later, Gary "Chicken" Hersh, our drummer, said she "goosed" him during that set as well.

    As space is limited for each of contribution, I’ll continue in a subsequent entry.

  7. Paul Dresher continuing here....

    As to whether Jerry played with the show Tarot in NY, while we were playing the first run at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in the fall, he came and sat in for one performance, playing only pedal steel. As someone noted above, the music for this show was mostly composed and while he was somewhat familiar with the music from having played in early demos for the score (and from attending one rehearsal, see below), he was very careful and held back most of the show, only cutting loose in passages where jamming was possible (and there were a few). So, he most definitely played ONE and only one show of Tarot.

    In fact, Garcia also came to an early rehearsal for Tarot when we were rehearsing in some warehouse in Chelsea. That rehearsal was actually my first opportunity to play with Garcia and I was TOTALLY pumped. We had a great jam session and part way through, we took a break and Jerry got out a couple of joints which we all shared (except TC, who wasn't partaking of any such intoxicants at that point) and then got back to jamming. At the outset, I had inquired about recording the session and was told that it was going to be recorded. The recorder turned out to be an old (even at that time!) two track Wollensak and when I got the tape, it was TOTALLY distorted, like the levels were set at 11 and not monitored. Needless to say, I was disappointed....I think it was a great session but we'll never know for certain.

    Of course, the Dead were in town at the Fillmore East when we were recording in the LP of the music for Tarot in the Spring of 1971 at Electric Lady Studios, and TC sat in with the band, I think for the last time, during those sessions. I wrangled a back-stage pass and was, as always , blown away by the band. The only negative for me coming when Phil Lesh leaned back over his amp and told me - in no uncertain terms - to put down the African bell I, along with quite a few other folks backstage, were using to play along with the band. Probably justified I would guess…

    I'll be happy to contribute further to this discussion should there be something else I might add.

  8. Thanks for writing, Paul - it's great to have such detailed memories from a band member!

    When I first wrote this post, Garcia's involvement in Tarot was more or less forgotten, very obscure & uncertain. By now it's pretty definite that he's one of quite a few musicians who helped work on it over the course of 1970. It's a surprise to hear that he took part in any rehearsal or performance in New York, since his active work with Rubber Duck had been over for at least half a year by then.

    I am also curious about Richard Greene & Peter Rowan's participation in the Rubber Duck Co., though it sounds like that was before you came in. I have the impression a bunch of SF musicians were invited to pitch in at various points, with people like Glen drifting in & out.

    Anyway, if you happen to have other memories of Grateful Dead shows you were at and how they inspired you, those are welcome as well! That's what this site's all about, in a way.

  9. This doesn't add that much to what you've put together here so well but in a review of Tarot in the Dec. 14, 1970 edition of Women's Wear Daily (of all places!), Gottfried Martin states that "On occasion...the lead guitarist is no less than Jerry Garcia, the main man of The Grateful Dead." It's available through Proquest ( but if you don't have access and would like a copy let me know.

    1. Women's Wear Daily is certainly a far-flung location for a Tarot review! It looks like that was one of the New York reviewers who saw Garcia's name in the program, but never actually saw him with the show.

  10. Garcia was interviewed in Boston in November 1970, and said he would play in Tarot:
    "'Tarot' will open off-Broadway in New York some time in early December, and Jerry will play guitar for the first two weeks of the engagement."

    So Garcia was at least planning to take part in the play, explaining his presence in the program. But evidently by December '70 he didn't feel so keen about participating.
    The Dead were scheduled to play in Port Chester on Dec 18-20, so Garcia would have been in NYC that week; once those shows were cancelled, and Garcia started playing some gigs with David Crosby in mid-December, the prospect of an extra visit to New York probably seemed less inviting.

  11. Oh my goodness, I had lost sight of this great post and the great contributions by so many. Thanks to all.

    I came here because my Facebook feed just had someone mentioning that s/he saw Garcia playing pedal steel in Tarot. This is consistent with Paul Dresher above: "As to whether Jerry played with the show Tarot in NY, while we were playing the first run at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in the fall, he came and sat in for one performance, playing only pedal steel. As someone noted above, the music for this show was mostly composed and while he was somewhat familiar with the music from having played in early demos for the score (and from attending one rehearsal, see below), he was very careful and held back most of the show, only cutting loose in passages where jamming was possible (and there were a few). So, he most definitely played ONE and only one show of Tarot."

    Gosh, I wish I knew the date of that.

  12. re date: the show only ran December 11-20, 1970 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, I believe. The NYT review by Barnes 1970 pins the start and a piece in the East Village Other by Rex Wiener pins the end. So it was in that range. I am with LIA that it had to be in that 18th-19th-20th window.

  13. Man, what a world we live in. I just found an article in the NY Daily News from 11/27/70 with the following.

    The show began previewing on Tuesday 12/1/70.

    "Garcia will sit in with the Rubber Band for some of the previews, opening night December 8, and maybe a few other dates"

    Garcia came to a rehearsal on 11/24/70 at 2:30 pm, despite having gigged until dawn for the Hells Angels the night before. Pedal steel was being set up for him to play on.

    So I now have a new Garcia date for the list (11/24/70), and the opening date of 12/8 is a possibility for Garcia's one live performance with the show, as an alternative to one of the 18-19-20 dates. I have him free from the 3rd to the 8th, with a JGMS gig on 12/9.

    1. A fabulous find! Almost too good to be true. In fact it's going on Dead Sources pronto.
      This may be well the same rehearsal that Paul Dresher wrote about.

      Not sure why I thought Dec 18-20 were good dates for Garcia to be in New York; with the Capitol shows canceled, he'd have more reason NOT to go there. Now I think his participation is more likely in the beginning of December after the Dead tour wrapped up - maybe a preview and/or opening night, and that was it for him.

      But we've certainly come a long way from the initial mystery of whether Garcia was involved in Tarot at all!

  14. Joe McCord is unwell and has a gofundme page for his medical expenses

    This has some interesting titbits. It turns out Joe was one of the Merry Pranksters and in the SF Mime Troupe and had known Jerry since the mid-sixties.

    "Former Merry Prankster and Mime Troupe co-founder Joseph Lennon McCord, a long-time friend of Jerry Garcia, is battling both prostate and colon cancer and, despite having health insurance, the cost of Joe's hospitalizations, co-pays, surgeries, and rehabs have overrun him.

    Joe needs our help to pay those costs as well as the cost of hotels near treatment and rehab facilities, as he is wheelchair-bound and his mobility limited.

    Our friend also needs help with the basic costs of living: rent, utilities, food and medication. He also needs a new wheelchair.

    Joe and Jerry knew each other as far back as the mid-Sixties. The Warlocks and, later, the Grateful Dead, performed four benefits for the Mime Troupe between November, 1965 and April, 1967— to raise bail for the troupe and to fund their activism.

    Mr. McCord and Garcia were intimate friends from 1970 on.

    “We started hanging out again during Tarot {Joe’s acclaimed Berkeley theater production that combined mime, music and satire}. I collaborated with Jerry, and he and I worked on my play, Tarot, which went from Berkeley to Broadway.”

    (Tom Constanten left the Grateful Dead in early 1970, in part, to write music for Tarot and to perform with the house band; Jerry would often show up unannounced before performances in Berkeley and sit in.)

    ”Jerry and I were very close. He was very selective about his friends. Jerry wasn’t exactly the biggest social bee,” admits Joe, uncorking a deep laugh. “He had a lot of ‘pet peeves’ and I was one of them. He was very visual, and I fit his visual world like a hand in a glove.”

    During the last 25 years of his life, Jerry and Joe held countless midnight-to-dawn “raps” (as the guitarist termed them) at Garcia’s various homes. “We used to talk about the long, strange trip," says McCord. “Jerry left me with a legacy that I have to exorcise.”

    Joe has not done that just yet.

    Please help to ensure that he has the opportunity to see his mission through.

    Thank you, and God bless."

  15. I saw Tarot at Circle in the Square. Jerry Garcia was there playing pedal steel. TC was on keyboard (maybe harpsichord, don't remember well). I think it was Chicken Hirsch on percussion but not sure.

    1. TC played an RMI Electric Piano that had an excellent harpsichord sound so your impression there was correct. And Chicken (who just died a little over a year ago in Oregon, where he had been living for many years and was still playing jazz, his first musical love). But Garcia only played one show live with the band, and that was at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, so if you saw Jerry (and he only played pedal steel, didn't bring a guitar), you must have seen it there in Brooklyn, or else you came back a 2nd time and saw it at the Circle in the Square after we moved the show from Brooklyn to NY early in 1971.

    2. That comment above is by Paul Dresher as is this one (I can't figure out how to change my screen name). I was surprised to read in the above comments that the initial run of the show at the Chelsea Theater Center at the Brooklyn Academy of Music only show only ran for a couple of weeks. My recollection was that we ran for a few weeks longer but I have NO certainty of that. I remember arriving in NY on Halloween after driving across country and rehearsals started right after that. So, after a four week rehearsal process (that's my guess as to how long it was, I don't recall any specifics about the length of the rehearsals) and a week of previews would have us opening in early December. It's also possible that the dates of the show's run above didn't include the preview week.

    3. Thanks for the memories! Remembering details like dates can be tricky after 50 years....

      I'm now pretty sure that while Garcia was involved with Tarot rehearsals, he bowed out after the show opened. This could be due to lack of time, waning interest in Tarot, or he just had second thoughts about sticking with a theatrical run in New York when he had plenty of club jams to take part in back home. It seems as soon as he went back to San Francisco, he took up with David Crosby for their short-lived "David & the Dorks" group.