Feb 26, 2017

September 1966: Camp Lagunitas


The Grateful Dead have been buried in the country, but are soon to be disinterred.
The rock 'n' roll combo is regretfully leaving its sylvan retreat at Camp Lagunitas the end of this month and returning to "the nervous scene" on the other side of the Golden Gate.
For three months, the five electronic musicians - together with three managers, one equipment man, four wives, and six weeks in the historic Bardell mansion on Rancho Olompali, the rest of the time at the former children's summer camp on Arroyo Road off Sir Francis Drake Boulevard.
Manager Rock Scully explained the Grateful Dead's retreat to bucolic Lagunitas: "That city over there is what we call 'the scene.' It's meeting all kinds of people. It's a lot of extra nervousness. Being in a band is a nervous kind of work anyway. The band works smoother when it can get away some place from all that and relax."
The only drawback is that the band can't practice in the country, according to lead guitarist Jerry Garcia.
Scully pointed to the wooded hills around the nearly four-acre camp and explained that "the sound really bounces around this canyon and the neighbors don't like it.
"We understand, of course, and the policeman who said we'd better not play was awfully nice," added Garcia.
So, for Garcia, Ron (Pigpen) McKernan, Bob (Cowboy) Weir, Phil Lesh and Bill Sommers and their retinue, it's goodbye to their $600-a-month leafy acreage, tiny brook, sheltering cabins, and swimming pool.
They'll be too busy in the city across the bay, however, to have time for nostalgia, according to manager Scully.
The long-haired quintet is booked solidly for weekends through November and will have to spend most of the weekdays practicing and cutting their first records, Scully said.
The recording contract is a measure of how quickly the Grateful Dead have caught on since the group was formed nine months ago. Since then, they've played in Los Angeles, Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, B.C., as well as in San Francisco dance halls. In November, they are booked into Chicago.
Nucleus of the group, all of whom are in their early 20's, were Garcia, McKernan, and Weir, who started as Mother McCrea's Jug Band. Bill Sommers was drafted when the three heard him on the drums one night in Palo Alto. Phil Lesh was studying composing at Mills College in Oakland, when the group persuaded him to team up as the electric bass player.
All except rhythm guitarist Cowboy Weir, who is from Wyoming, are Bay Area men.
The lyrics of one of the songs they will record while making the nervous scene may recall their Lagunitas retreat:
"When the cardboard cowboy dreams
In his cornucopia
He opens up the sky and sends my mind
To the corners of the rainbow bridge
Unrolling beneath my trembling toes."

FAREWELL, BUCOLIA - Ron (Pigpen) McKernan, Bob (Cowboy) Weir, and Jerry Garcia, who as Mother McCrea's Jug Band comprised the nucleus of what is now the Grateful Dead, twang and sing a little in Camp Lagunitas, former boys' camp they rented as Marin retreat. They are going back to "the nervous scene." Their rehearsing annoyed Lagunitas neighbors, it seems. (Independent-Journal photo)

(by Robert Strebeigh, from the San Rafael Independent-Journal, 19 September 1966)

Thanks to Dave Davis.

See also: http://deadsources.blogspot.com/2013/02/august-1966-grateful-dead-interview.html

1 comment:

  1. A surprisingly detailed "local color" article capturing the Dead on the verge of leaving Camp Lagunitas, their West Marin Country retreat. They'd moved from Olompali to the former kids' summer camp in late June, and would move to 710 Ashbury in late September.
    McNally describes the scene: "The atmosphere at the Lagunitas camp reminded many of Middle Earth... A creek ran through the property, which was carpeted with redwood trees; it was lovely... The one complication to life on Arroyo Road was their next-door neighbor, the county sheriff, so the main house rule, said Lesh, involved never hollering "'dope,' 'fuck,' or the names of young girls." (McNally p.151)
    Other bands had also gone rural: Quicksilver lived on a nearby ranch, and Big Brother was only a few minutes away in Lagunitas. (Janis spent a lot of time with Pigpen this summer.)

    Rock Scully was always happy to talk to reporters about the Dead, and here he says that being in the city makes them "extra nervous": "The band works smoother when it can get away some place from all that and relax."
    This feeling would continue, as the band always wanted to get back to pastoral isolation - in Garcia's interview with Helix in July '67, he explained, "We’re concerned about our productivity. And what we’re going to do is like get away from...just this kind of thing [interviews]... Get away from a lot of people and a lot of action and a lot of energy and just go out and do our own thing for a while."

    As the article says, there were noise complaints in Lagunitas, so the band couldn't practice as much as they liked. The Dead also brought this up in their Mojo Navigator interview in mid-August:
    WEIR: We're looking for a place...a beautiful expensive place, with plenty of land around it so we can practice there, because otherwise the neighbors always complain man, even if they’re hip.
    GARCIA: Yeah, we have to get an isolated house somewhere...Marin County, preferably... We're in Lagunitas, they won't let us practice there.
    (But here, Garcia makes sure to mention, "The policeman who said we'd better not play was awfully nice.")
    In the meantime, the Dead tried out a few other practice spaces in this period - the Straight Theater, a building on O'Farrell Street in San Francisco, and finally the Sausalito Heliport:

    There are a few fibs in the article - Weir wasn't really a cowboy from Wyoming (he'd spent a summer there), and Lesh hadn't attended Mills College since '62.
    The Dead had also told the Mojo Navigator that they were booked solid for a few months, and going to Chicago in November (but that booking fell through).
    They actually were planning to do more recording with producer Gene Estribou (who'd put out their first single, not mentioned here). Garcia had said in August they were going to start recording with him again: "Hopefully we’ll have something out. I don’t know what it’ll be. Presumably...a single and then probably an album...we have a lot of material... I don’t think our next record will be out on Scorpio, I don’t know what the label’ll be. Could be a major company, we may work a thing like that."
    Joe Smith from Warner Bros may already have contacted the Dead to discuss a contract - according to McNally, their Warners contract was dated Sept. 30 (though they didn't sign til later).

    It's neat to see that Lesh's song Cardboard Cowboy was still in their repertoire (and recording plans) in September '66. (Note that the first verse isn't accurately transcribed in the lyrics available online.)

    The third paragraph is mangled in the original article. (I wonder who the "three managers" and "four wives" were!)