Jul 12, 2015

1969: Live/Dead Reviews

. . . And of course, the Grateful Dead . . . who need no embellishment here. Their live album, not released until June, but currently being previewed on KSAN, will give you some idea of what San Francisco has been like. It is probably the finest American album ever made

(excerpt from Peter Thompson, "The Music Scene," Stanford Daily, 30 April 1969)

* * *  


[ . . . ]  The day before yesterday the Wild West show was cancelled, the record stores are glutted with “psychedelic music,” and last week Bill Graham announced that he’d had it: nobody was grateful enough to him for making a million dollars off the community, so he’s splitting town in December. So long, Bill. [ . . . ] The vultures are moving in. The Iron Butterfly are hot in Peoria, Richard Nixon is down on dope, and Warren Burger is resting in the East. [ . . . ]
I have no doubt about it: within a year or so, the vitality and inventiveness that were the musical expression of our scene will be a memory. It’s been dying for two years now, and that’s too long a final spasm. So like swing jazz fans, people like me who care enough to write this kind of column, and people like you who care enough to read it, will be hoarding our records with the belief that it will never happen again.
And maybe it won’t, but there’s no small consolation in the record I am going to preview today: a double-album live recording of the Grateful Dead to be released sometime in the Fall. It’s the Grateful Dead record, in fact the San Francisco record that we’ve all been waiting for, a nearly flawless vinyl reproduction of what can actually go down at those concerts.
I say nearly flawless because there’s really no way that anybody is ever going to reproduce the feeling, the original feeling we might have had a few years ago about what was happening here, the feeling you still find yourself carrying around like a secret hope: nobody dances, nobody cares. No use to belabor the point; this is a music column and the proper topic of discussion is music. Except that with a group like the Grateful Dead it’s impossible to separate the music from those people and what they stand for. Witness leader Jerry Garcia, in a recent Rolling Stone interview, on what’s happened since the “good old days”:
“It was magic, far out, beautiful magic…a sensitive trip, and it’s been lost… Like Bill Graham, he was at the Trips Festival, and all he saw was a light show and a band. Take the two and you’ve got a formula… It’s watching television, large loud television.”

All right, the album: I don’t even know the name of it. I obtained it by recording it from KSAN last May, the only time to my knowledge it’s been played in its entirety. The tape I have, then, is a copy of the original master, which means that it might go through some changes before it becomes an album, and which means that it hasn’t yet been sliced up into sides and bands. And that’s groovy, and hopefully they will keep it this way: if you’ve ever seen the Dead on a good night, you know they don’t come on and say “now we’re going to play ‘Satisfaction,’ blah blah, then we’ll do this thing we learned from Albert King, blah blah, then we’ll do this far-out jam on ‘Louie, Louie!’”
In some pure sense, they just come on stage and play music.
That’s what this tape is: an hour and a half of uninterrupted rolling together music. It begins at a low pressure, with some excellent interplay between bassist Phil Lesh and rhythm guitarist Bob Weir, and ends with a mind-blowing ten minutes of amplifier electronics. Garcia’s guitar has never been so beautiful in its lyric, jazzy lines, and (surprise) even the singing is good. Of the numbers I can separate and give names to, they do “St. Stephen,” a happy, bouncing number from their latest studio album Aoxomoxoa, a jam following that which sounds like Richie Valens’ “La Bamba,” Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Lovelight,” where wonderful old Pig Pen struts his stuff, and a breath-taking “Death Has No Mercy,” featuring melodic feedback work by Garcia.
What can I say? What can be said about the Grateful Dead’s music without talking about a whole lot of things that are not supposed to be the proper concern of a rock music column? Buy the album when it comes out; it’s beautiful, and they need the bread.
Two things I leave you with (a note of optimism): one, there’s a dance this Sunday at Frost featuring the Sons of Champlin and the best unrecorded band in the area, Country Weather, a benefit for some people that need your support and your money. Go to it. Second, next time you’re buying an Iron Butterfly album and wondering when Bobby Vinton will be nominated to the Burger Court, remember that the Grateful Dead have something better for you just around the corner: “We’re tired of jerking off,” Garcia said in that same interview, “and we want to start fucking again.” Goodbye, Bill Graham, goodbye, summer school. I won’t miss either of you.

(by Dave Stevens, from the Stanford Daily, 15 August 1969) 

* * *


The good Ol’ Grateful Dead, after wading through enormous piles of bullshit, have finally put out their double live album (with virtually no help from Warner Brothers), after a delay of four months. It goes without saying that Live/Dead (Warner Bros. 1830) is their best album yet; it transcends any mere value judgements one might have. You just listen to it, shake your head in wonder, and mutter to yourself, “the Dead, the Dead, the Dead…”
Ever since the beginning, while other bands have had more national success (the Airplane, Big Brother), the Dead have always been the San Francisco band. While other groups have broken up or changed because of internal hassles, the Dead have added two more members, Hart and Constanten. And today, as most of the third wave San Francisco bands flood the ballrooms with boring, imitative music, the Dead’s originality and brilliance stand out even more.
The album is a masterpiece – excellent cover artwork and inner leaflet with the words to the songs, and a masterful job of mixing by the Dead, the best quality for a live album I’ve heard.
The first three sides of Live/Dead were actually performed continuously. The Dead are very successful in creating a steady flow of extremely satisfying music, and within this stream is constant interaction, always with the rhythmic undercurrent of the two percussionists, Hart and Kreutzmann; Phil Lesh’s bass behaving like a second lead guitar.
It begins with Jerry Garcia’s muted guitar, demonstrating his ability to let the notes ooze out of the strings. Midway through the flow, Hart crashes the gong behind the vocals (which are fantastic throughout) – “Dark star crashes/Pouring its light into ashes/Reason tatters/The forces tear loose from the axis.” It’s so easy to get lost in this music…and Garcia’s quivering vocals fit “Dark Star” (and “Death” on the fourth side) perfectly.
“Saint Stephen,” which begins the second side, comes off much better than the Aoxomoxoa version, partially because when done live, Bob Weir sings lower voice, whereas in the studio Garcia overdubbed both parts. “Talk about your plenty/Talk about your ills/One man gathers what another man spills.” It blends into “The Eleven,” a Lesh tune.
Then comes Pig Pen’s big moment: ever since the Dead’s first album, Mr. McKernan has stepped further from the spotlight, and during performances he stands in a corner playing inaudible conga, but this was a matter of personal choice – he never has considered himself a musician. The Dead have left the rhythm and blues stage far behind, and Pig Pen with it.
But they still do a tune like “Lovelight,” and do it well, Garcia’s guitar as funky and fast as ever, Pig Pen working it out, joined by Lesh and Weir in the third chorus. It is simply another musical vehicle for the Dead, just as the slow blues by Rev. Gary Davis, “Death Don’t Have No Mercy,” the electronic feedback, and the “Bid You Goodnight” hymn on the fourth side are.
Nuff said. Buy the album and listen to it. You’ll see why Bill Graham introduces the Dead as “the greatest rock’n’roll band in the world.”

(by Craig Okino, from the Stanford Daily, 3 December 1969)

Jul 7, 2015

January 2-4, 1969: Fillmore West, San Francisco


I hope you got back to school early. So you could go to the Fillmore two weeks ago.
It was a magnificent show, probably the best single collection of artists appearing here in the last nine or ten months. Blood, Sweat and Tears. The Grateful Dead. Spirit.
They sound like life styles, which they are. But they’re also, along with the Airplane and the band from Big Pink, the epitome of white American contemporary music.
The three groups seem remarkably similar at first, and it’s difficult to absorb all of them in a single evening. Still, you’ve got to give Graham credit for the programming: Blood, Sweat and Tears, leading to the Dead, followed by Spirit. That’s pretty eerie.
All three are loosely based in white blues-rock-etc., yet all give a definite jazz texture to their music, which is often set in a fairly rigid classical framework.

The improvisations and solos (and each musician in these groups is capable of sustaining interest and excitement throughout his individual riffs) are based upon, and must appear within, the general themes of the group’s music. Things fit.
Yet the conspicuous building and tension within each song – and the set as a whole – rarely becomes formal. The continual re-directing prevents sterility, without ever lapsing into random diddling; the changes work because of these groups’ immense talent and obvious familiarity with each other.
The last time I saw Spirit, they were playing a lot of Coltrane, self-consciously yet quite impressively. They have evolved, have developed their own forms, yet still play with far more freedom than most groups.
They remain a highly eclectic group while continually giving greater importance to electronics. Randy California’s guitar is supposed to be from a Sears catalogue, but all its adapters, amps and assorted freaky gadgets are definitely home-grown.

Blood, Sweat and Tears began as the Al Kooper Experienece. Their first album is quite nice, but Kooper’s presence becomes a bit stifling. It was obvious then that there was a great deal more to the group than this guitarist-gone-organist-gone-producer who never could sing, but he had appeared on both Highway 61 Revisited and “Who Wears Short Shorts,” which is something.
Kooper left to the Columbia Complex (his first solo record for [them] is modestly titled “I Stand Alone”), a few changes were made in the horn section, David Clayton-Thomas was brought down from Canada to sing, and Altoist Fred Lipsius assumed the role of quasi-leader.
They’re really a bitch now, Jim Fielder’s striking bass, Clayton Thomas’ Bobby Bland-like voice, and Dick Halligan’s flute and keyboard work usually stand out. The horns are beautiful; there is no other rock group using so many horns so well.
Some of the BS&T songs are grossly over-arranged. But even when they are, such as with Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi’s “Smiling Phrases,” they manage to bring it off as a comical parody of Broadway show music or as a necessary part of their polished big band performance.

Rumors of the break-up of the Grateful Dead have been floating around for over a year, but the group just keeps adding musicians. First a second drummer, now a full-time organist so Pig Pen can concentrate on his harp and vocals.
They still seem much the same sprawling, joyous family. The music of the Dead is really San Francisco’s down-home sound; it grows increasingly complex, but it still gives off Trips Festival vibrations.
They seem to have recently re-discovered their first album, and last weekend did the always-moving “Morning Dew” and always-boring “Good Morning Little School Girl.” The rest of the set was a delightful build from “Dark Star” to “Turn On Your Lovelight,” interspersed with lots of nice transitions, new tunes, and changing arrangements.  
Bob Wier still jumps up and down, grinning like a perennial 17-year-old, Pig Pen seems to be interested in singing again, and Garcia, Lesh, and the two drummers, remain, along with the Airplane, the finest lead-bass-drum nucleus in the country.
No, don’t worry about the Dead. They’re playing better than ever. They want to give their next record away. Free. If the physical separation of its members ever does come, their music will just go on playing itself for months afterward.
An awesome evening, yet so immediately compelling that many people were dancing again. By the way, Spirit’s from LA, BS&T from New York, and the Dead from 910-A Ashbury Street. That’s the real difference.

(by Peter Thompson, from the Stanford Daily, 13 January 1969) 


Alas, no tape!

Jul 6, 2015

May 1968: Band Interview

POP TALK  [excerpt]

Things We Couldn't Get In Last Issue Dept.:
Jefferson Airplane landed at New York's Fillmore East May 3-4, accompanied by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown. The Airplane, better than ever, played their last set until well after 3 A.M. and wore out three drummers, including their own Spencer Dryden, Mitch Mitchell of the Jimi Hendrix Experience (who sat in for the encores), and Jeff Butler (who sat in for the rest of the encores). Sunday afternoon the Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band turned Central Park into Golden Gate Park with a free concert attended by at least 10,000 people (and, judging by the volume, heard by probably half of Manhattan). The joint effort was initiated and masterminded by the bands themselves, Bill Graham of the Fillmores East and West, and Howard Solomon of the Cafe Au Go Go.
[ . . . ]
MINI-INTERVIEW (which means the tape recorder wouldn't work, there was a hassle at the door, no place to sit quietly, and a full-dress, coherent interview was impossible, so we took what we got and printed what we could):
"We like to leave people speechless," smiled Jerry Garcia after the Grateful Dead's spectacular closing set of their May 7-9 date at New York's Electric Circus. The six-man San Francisco group (Garcia, lead guitar; Bob Weir, second guitar; Phil Lesh, bass; Pigpen, organ and harmonica; Bill Sommers and Micky Hart, percussion) did just that, after opening with a solid, rock-oriented first set and coming on at midnight with a virtuoso rock-jazz improvisation that must have lasted an hour or more.
The Dead began their career nearly three years ago as a rock band with a heavy blues sound; their first record, singularly unrepresentative of either their live sound or their present work, consisted largely of old blues tunes. ("Man," says guitarist Weir, "we don't remember those songs on our old record, and that's the living truth.") Yet the Dead-as-blues-band myth is still widely believed, despite the facts that Jerry Garcia lists Django Reinhardt as one of his major influences, that Phil Lesh spends a good deal of time listening to Coltrane, and that anybody with half an ear can tell from their music what the Grateful Dead are really into: namely, a tight, effective, highly original and beautiful rock-jazz synthesis.
"The blues," says Bill Sommers, "we started out doing it, but it's not our music. We don't do it anymore; we can appreciate it, really dig it, but we don't play it, and some people who try to play blues today - man, you have to be born into it. If you're not...well, you could be the best guitar player in the world, but you'll never in your life be a blues man. This is what a whole lot of people, really good people, are trying to do, and they'll never make it, because it just isn't theirs.
"I know people still think of us as a blues band, but it's just not so. We're into jazz much more deeply; what we do, it's jazz, it's rock, it's symphonic progressions...movements, they're programmed and they relate and interact."
Still another manifestation of the jazz influence is the incredible improvisation that has become a hallmark of Dead performances. "They break loose from the framework," explains manager Rock Scully. "But it only happens when they're all together in their heads. All of them have to be moving the same way, feeling the same way - if somebody starts slipping, the other guys yell at him or hold him up musically until he gets back. If he can't, then they all go back to the song's original framework. This is a very jazz approach; you can hear it in the lines, too. Some of Jerry's riffs are straight out of Django - things from like Pharaoh Sanders, Coltrane - Phil is into Coltrane - the music is all moving together now, and this is a very fine thing."

(by Patricia Kennely, from Jazz & Pop, July 1968)

Alas, no tape! But we do have another review of this Electric Circus run: 

Thanks to jgmf.blogspot.com  

July 2, 1967: El Camino Park, Palo Alto, CA


The newly merged Free University of Palo Alto and the Experiment will climax a week-long registration drive Sunday with a Be-in festival.
The Be-in, scheduled for 1 p.m. at El Camino Park, across from the Stanford Shopping Center, will feature four bands, dancing, and possibly a free dinner.
The dinner may be provided by the Diggers, but no definite plans have been made.
The Grateful Dead, the Anonymous Artists of America, the New Delhi River Band, and the Good Word are among the bands expected to participate in the Sabbath fracas.
Be-in sponsors have promised group activities, including improvisational dancing and possible sensory awareness exercises. 
In addition, the seminar leaders of the various Experiment-Free University summer courses will be introduced.
The Experiment and the Free University merged last week due to their similar views of the radical community, according to the Experiment's coordinator, Barry Greenberg. Both groups are participating in the registration drive. The Free University was established about two years ago and The Experiment was established on campus last September.  [ . . .]
Sunday’s Be-in will be the second of the year for the Palo Alto area, following the one held during spring quarter. Golden Gate Park, in San Francisco, has become famous during the past year for its Sunday afternoon Be-ins. 

(from the Stanford Daily, 30 June 1967) 

* * *  


Sunday the Free University and The Experiment staged their Mary Poppins Umbrella Festival and Be-In at Palo Alto Park from 1 to 6 p.m.
The action started promptly at 1:00 with four bands, the Anonymous Artists, the New Delhi River Band, the Solid State, and the Good Word supplying entertainment for the crowd. Gradually listeners grew from a few hundred to a few thousand.
Beads, flowers, headbands, bells, painted faces, and multi-colored clothing were in abundance on Be-In participants. Smiles and happy laughter came from all directions during the easy-going afternoon.
Free oranges and punch were provided by the Free University and The Experiment, while wandering participants also gladly surrendered their refreshments to those around them.
One incident which marred the pleasant atmosphere of the Festival occurred when a policeman found a young man with an American flag draped casually over his shoulder. He was beckoned aside by the policeman who took the flag away and inspected it for possible stains or tears. However, the flag-bearer ran away at the first opportunity, leaving the officer with the flag.
The highlight of the afternoon came at 4:30 when the Grateful Dead stepped on stage. As the group launched into "Dancing in the Street," the crowd of 4,000 moved closer to the stage.
After coaxing from the "Dead," some of the crowd started dancing in a large circle, holding hands and swirling around. Snake dance lines wound through the crowd while tambourines, maracas, kazoos, and bells kept the beat of the music.
The "Dead" kept up the performance for about a half hour, and then promised to come back for more. After they left the stage, the audience settled down and listened to some blues and more psychedelic music from the other bands.
At the Be-In, the Free University provided tables for class enrollment and sold copies of various underground publications.

(Picture caption: “The typical Be-In crowd was on hand Sunday at El Camino Park. The crowd includes those who are seriously involved in the aims of FUPA and The Experiment and the clean-cut teenagers who wish they had the guts and don’t.”)

(from the Stanford Daily, 4 July 1967) 

For more details & background, see: 

Jul 5, 2015

September 2, 1966: La Dolphine, Hillsborough, CA


The rock 'n' roll beat of the Grateful Dead blasted the night air above La Dolphine, one of Hillsborough's most noted estates, when Mr. and Mrs. Albert C. Mattei gave a large dance there last night for their granddaughters, Ayn and Lyn Mattei.
The combo, which is well known to the Fillmore Auditorium set, if not to society, played on a dance platform set up in the formal garden, which was beautifully lighted for the ball.
Inside, in the ballroom, which has not seen a party this large and festive in many years, another orchestra, headed by Al Trobbe, played music that was far from staid, but more suitable to the adult guests. . . . .

[The rest of the article is a lavish description of the house and garden decor.] 

(from the "Women's World" column, San Francisco Chronicle, 3 September 1966)

* * *


Police and PG&E repairmen got in on the action at the weekend's two big deb balls on the Peninsula, and the culprits in each case were rock 'n' roll bands.
Hillsborough police had hoped to keep the racket of the Grateful Dead a "family affair," when the group played Friday night at the dance the Albert C. Matteis gave for their granddaughters, Ayn and Lyn Mattei, at La Dolphine, the Peninsula showplace.
But then complaints started to come in from residents in the Burlingame-Broadway area. The Grateful Dead were noisy enough to wake the dead, the cops were told, and so the band had to be moved from the garden to the inside of the beautiful mansion.
The following night, when the Edward Morse Hamiltons gave a ball for her daughter, Virginia (Lyn) Belcher, at their villa in Atherton, neighbors were more tolerant - probably they were all at the party - but the electrical requirements of two rock 'n' roll groups were too much for the wiring, and the lights went out all over the house.
The party carried on by candlelight for an hour or so, until service was restored at midnight. Naturally, the blackout put the combos, the Outfit and the Gordion Knot, out of action. Immediately, rumor spread that Walt Tolleson, whose music does not require amplifying, was guarding the fuse box.
Along with three bands, the Hamiltons presented a surprise feature: a belly dancer to match their Egyptian-style home. She performed sinuously in the living room at the height of the party.
The Hamilton dance had further unscheduled excitement when three CORE protesters, all properly dressed, crashed the party. They were permitted to stay and went unnoticed by most of the guests.

(by Frances Moffatt, from the "Who's Who" column, San Francisco Chronicle, September 1966)

* * *

Debs Danced To Rock 'n' Roll Beat

La Dolphine, the beautiful Hillsborough mansion that has been silent and unoccupied off and on since it was built before World War I, burst into brilliant life with a rock 'n' roll beat Friday night, for a deb ball the Albert C. Matteis gave for their granddaughters, Ayn and Lyn Mattei. . . . 
The 18th century styled chateau is set in 3 1/2 acres of terraced gardens which were floodlighted with pink and white spots for the party. Despite the evening's chill, the young set stayed outside to dance to the rhythms of the Grateful Dead, while their elders remained in the ballroom where Al Trobbe played. . . .
One of the members of The Grateful Dead is Bob Weir, the brother of Peninsula Ball deb Wendy Weir, who made her bow earlier this year at a marvelous pop party at San Francisco Airport.
The beat of the band was so infectious that the adults were eventually lured to the outdoors dance platform where credible frugs were performed . . . .

 [The rest of the article describes the ball arrangements and attire.]

(by Joan White, from the "Women Today" section, the San Francisco Examiner, 5 September 1966)

Picture from the SF Chronicle: 

For more background & details, see: