Mar 1, 2012

February 2, 1970: Fox Theater, St Louis


The Grateful Dead were a long time getting started last night, but they made up for it with a powerful performance that had rock fans dancing in the aisles of the Fox Theater. 
Owsley Stanley, the well-known alchemist, prowled about the stage for an hour after the concert had been scheduled to begin, twisting knobs, cursing microphones, and scowling at the loudspeakers. Stanley built most of the Grateful Dead's massive array of sound equipment, but he was unhappy with the theater's public-address system. 
He must have adjusted everything properly because the sound was just fine, blasting clearly into the far reaches of the second balcony. 
The concert, which was part of the homecoming festivities of St Louis University, got underway with a middling performance by a Chicago group, Aorta. It was not until 10:15 that the Grateful Dead began to play. While waiting, many in the crowd of about 2000 milled around in the neo-Babylonian lobby of the theater. 
The crowd was about half clean-cut students and about half the sort of group one would expect for a concert by the original San Francisco acid rock band - explosions of hair, clothes from the Salvation Army and Goodwill stores. There were few of the boutique bohemians who haunt the more polite rock concerts. 
The Dead opened their set with several songs of a heavy country flavor, including a rollicking version of Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried." At times, Jerry Garcia was twanging away as if he were playing a pedal steel guitar rather than a simple electric one. 
The crowd was pleased but fairly subdued at first. Then, the six-man band began a long, slow blues that featured some electronic games with feedback and tape loops. In the middle of the blues, they broke into the heavy rock spiritual sound of "St. Stephen." A boy near the front leaped to his feet and yelped in approval, and soon most of the rest of the crowd followed suit. 
For the rest of the concert, perhaps another half-hour, the crowd was on its feet, shaking and twisting. Many hands were raised high with the victory sign. 
After a slower number, the Dead came on stronger than ever with a pounding rendition of "Turn On Your Lovelight." Ron (Pigpen) McKernan, a cowboy hat pulled low over his eyes, drove the crowd into a frenzy with his gutsy vocal. The two drummers kept the beat rolling, and Garcia threw in snappy blues asides. 
At the end, in a crescendo of cymbals and screeching guitars, a tall girl in an Afro hair style jumped up on the stage and hugged and kissed "Pigpen." The crowd cheered and screamed for more. 
For an encore the Dead did an a cappella version of "Goodnight." They seemed as happy as everyone else about the way the evening turned out. 
The Fox, which seldom has live performers, seems to be a fine setting for rock concerts. The acoustics are good and the elegantly gaudy decor is perfect. 
The delay was not the fault of the theater staff or the band. Several members of the Grateful Dead were among 19 persons arrested early Saturday at what reportedly was a marijuana party in a New Orleans motel. They and their equipment did not arrive in St Louis until nearly 7 p.m. 

(by Harper Barnes, from the St Louis Post-Dispatch, February 3 1970)  

See also Harper Barnes' 1973 article on Pigpen: (partial show)


  1. Our tape fragment is missing the early part of the set (including Mama Tried), and the ending Lovelight.

    It's interesting what a reviewer unfamiliar with Dark Star made of it: "a long, slow blues that featured some electronic games with feedback and tape loops."

    There is an interesting story behind the PA system that Bear was so unhappy with. Soundman Bob Heil talked about this show:
    "One night I get a call from old George Bales, the stage manager at the Fox. He says, 'Hey, Heil, you still got those big speakers?' And I said, 'Yeah, why?' He says, 'We got a band here that came in and they don't have a PA. Can you bring 'em up here?' Cause he didn't know that I'd built this [giant sound system]. That band was the Grateful Dead, and if you know their history, that was the weird time when they played New Orleans; and their soundman Owsley Stanley was on probation, he wasn't supposed to be out of the state of California. The drug agents followed him that night after the concert, confiscated him and the gear, brought him back to California. The band didn't know it, they had already left for St Louis. When they got there, no PA... They had never played through anything like [my system]. Garcia went nuts; he said 'You're going on tour with us, right out of here.' I said, 'No, you don't understand, I can't do that.' The thing that really saved me was that my roadies knew every lick of Grateful Dead music, they were Grateful Dead fanatics. So that really helped, cause they could mix good. The union that night was incredible."

    A lot more technical details on that here:
    (Here, it's Garcia himself who makes the call to Heil!)

    Heil is mistaken on an important point, though - as the newspaper reviewer notes, Owsley was actually in St Louis (as well as at the NYC shows on Feb 11-14), and it wasn't til after this bust that he was forbidden to leave California.
    It's also curious that Heil, though in the article he says he's responsible for many improvements in the Dead's sound system (including the phase-canceling microphones that would be so prominent in '74) and went on tour with them, is never mentioned in McNally, or Jackson's GD Gear book. (Although, since he wasn't part of the GD organization, he could have easily escaped their notice.)
    Alembic, the Dead's sound organization, may have been working along parallel lines with Heil, independently coming up with the same ideas for an improved sound system.

  2. I have been digging into the Bob Heil question, and posted some comments over on - but will post my conclusions here as well.

    Among other interviews where he refers to meeting the Dead, this one is illustrative:
    "The Grateful Dead came through town around 1971, and they didn't have a PA. Theirs was confiscated the night before by the feds because they weren't supposed to go out of California. Anyway, they show up at the Fox Theater. The Fox calls me and hands the phone to Jerry Garcia. He says, "You got a PA, man?" I said, "Yeah, I've got A4s, a whole bunch of McIntoshes."
    So I took it up there and we changed the world that one night. They freaked out. They took me right out on tour—right out of the theater that night off to New Jersey. Then it hit the front page of Billboard magazine that we had got the Grateful Dead contract, and the next thing you know, The Who is calling me, ZZ Top, Humble Pie, on and on..."

    I mentioned his confusion about Owsley, but there are other problems as well. It's puzzling to me why the LA police would, after the bust, have the Dead go out on bail to their next show, but keep their sound system - the newspaper reviewer says that the band "and their equipment did not arrive in St Louis until nearly 7 pm." (You'd think, if a local sound guy provided the equipment, it would be mentioned; instead the article starts by specifically mentioning how Owsley built the band's onstage equipment.)

    It's also vague just what tour the Dead took Heil's sound system on. The Dead went straight home after the 2/2/70 show. The interview above mentions heading off to New Jersey, which didn't follow St Louis in any tour of the time. (And oddly, not only is Heil not mentioned in any Dead source, I don't recall seeing any photos of them using his equipment; though more tech-minded people could determine that better than I.)

    Heil also says that a front-page Billboard article said that he'd gotten the Grateful Dead contract. Unfortunately, I can't find any mention of Heil in a google search of Billboards until April 1972 - in fact, none of the articles about him in '72-74 mention any connection with the Dead. (For what that's worth - I don't know how complete those online searches are. Ironically, a big story about him in November 1974 is on the same page as an article on the Dead's Wall of Sound - even more ironically, Heil, when mentioning new guitar amplifiers, very briefly refers to Alembic (misquoted as "Olympic, a subsidiary of Grateful Dead.")


  3. My theory is that Heil encountered the Dead at the Fox Theater not in 1970, but during the March 1971 shows, which would explain why he didn't encounter Owsley. The Dead played a few shows around the midwest in March 71, and may have bought some of his equipment for the end of the tour.

    McNally writes, "Using local sound systems had caused many unacceptable sound problems the previous fall [1970], so in early 1971 the band purchased the Alembic PA." The first tour with the new PA was in April 71; so the March 71 tour may still have been using "local sound systems."

    Also notice - the photos used in that Performing Musician article of the "Feb 2 1970" show (presumably provided by Heil, as I haven't seen them elsewhere) are NOT from that show! They're from spring 1971 - you can tell by Garcia's guitar and the tie-dye amps, the same amps seen in other photos of the time. (If you look at the photo in the 2/2/70 newspaper review, the stage setup is quite different, along with Garcia's guitar & clothes.)

    Heil refers to doing the Who's Next tour sometime after that, which was in summer/fall 1971. (The Who may have heard about him since he did the sound for the Mississippi River Festival in 1971.)

    In a youtube video, Heil also mentions how Garcia liked to hang out at his little store in Marissa, IL; and the Heil Sound myspace page says, "Heil Sound officially started when Bob Heil was coached by Jerry Garcia on the proper way to name a business." (Though actually, Heil Sound seems to have been founded in the 60s.)

    This seems to me like someone who had a slight connection with the band and over time created a bigger story around it. At any rate, I don't believe Bob Heil had much to do with the Dead's 2/2/70 show.

    1. The 1/17/70 issue of Billboard had an article on Bob Heil (page 3, "Small Instrument Dealer Strikes It Rich"). It mentions he's building the PA system for an upcoming May Day rock festival in Carbondale (which would later be cancelled), and that he's already supplied equipment to 30 rock groups.
      "I did the sound setup for the Rolling Stones when they recently appeared in Champaign. I've also dealt with groups like Steppenwolf, the Grateful Dead, the Buckinghams, and Jimi Hendrix... The first group I worked was the Grateful Dead, and I learned more about amplifiers from them than anywhere else since then."

      His memory has certainly changed since then! Even before the 2/2/70 show, he was already a success working with numerous bands; and it sounds like the Dead had taught him a lot about amplifiers! (He might have met them in '68 or '69; he'd opened his store in '66.) There were no later articles in Billboard about him getting a contract with the Dead or touring with them, which as far as I know never happened.

    2. Bob Heil's music store, then called Ye Olde Music Shop, ran newspaper ads starting in June '69: "Come see why we service such national groups as...[the] Grateful Dead, Iron Butterfly, hundreds more!"
      It's likely Heil had rented equipment to the Dead when they came to St. Louis earlier in '69.

  4. In good news, the complete 2/2/70 show is to be released this year.

    Harper Barnes, the writer of this review, also appeared in the liner notes of Two From The Vault, which excerpted a Pigpen tribute article he wrote in 1973, describing the Lovelight from this show:

    "When I heard that the body of Ron 'Pigpen' McKernan had been found in his Marin County apartment, I immediately remembered a Grateful Dead concert of a couple of years ago. For sheer energetic joy I still think it is the best rock concert I've ever been to, and Pigpen was the star.
    The concert was in February of 1970 at a marvelous neo-Babylonian movie theater in St. Louis called the Fox... The concert started about two hours late. The Grateful Dead had been busted for possession of marijuana a couple of days before in New Orleans, and the seven tons of equipment that they hauled around the country had been impounded in lieu of bond or something. A lot of it had just arrived and had been too hastily assembled, and besides the PA wasn't working too well...
    And then...along came Pigpen. He had been shaking a tambourine in a bemused sort of way, holding it up by his ear as if it were a seashell and he was listening for the ocean, but now he put it down on top of a speaker and walked to the front of the stage, with Garcia, Lesh, and Weir stretched out behind him. He was wearing a big-brimmed cowboy hat with the sides rolled up and the hat band was actually a swatch of colored cloth that hung down in back by his long pigtail.
    With the band rocking along behind him, he picked a microphone off a stand and held it out in front of him the way a knife fighter would. He made a dagger gesture with the mike and, even though he didn't move his feet, his body seemed to make a little rush forward at the audience. He poked again at the audience with the mike and the band cut back on the volume and left him a hole. Glaring at the audience as if he had just caught the whole bunch of them in bed with his old lady, but with a thin smile at the corner of his lips, he stepped forward and then began to sing: 'Without a broke my heart.'
    His body began to rock back and forth, the band came in louder and stronger than ever, and buddy that was all she wrote. Pigpen shouted and growled and screamed, he made little rushes across the stage, he did his Big Mama Thornton routine and his Otis Redding routine and his Little Richard routine, and the place just went crazy as he hopped around the stage, screaming again and again, 'Turn on your lovelight...turn on your lovelight.' As the concert came to a close with the explosions of drums and shrieking of guitars, and the applause and cheers began swelling up from the audience, a tall black woman with the biggest Afro in town jumped up on the stage and began hugging and kissing Pigpen, swinging him around like a doll. Pigpen just went limp in her arms and, for the first time all night, he grinned."
    (from the Boston Real Paper, April 4 1973)

    This is one of the few mentions of the little dances that Pigpen would do onstage, which unfortunately were never captured on film.

  5. The complete 2/2/70 has at last been released, and the CD case also includes Harper Barnes' full Pigpen tribute article from 1973. Narrating the 2/2/70 show, it mainly expands on his initial review here (which he was closely referring to, not just going from memory). With hindsight, he knew that the opening "several songs of a heavy country flavor" were part of the band's new Workingman's Dead direction, and vaguely remembered hearing Uncle John's for the first time at the show. But he still called Dark Star "a long and not entirely satisfactory trip down tape-loop lane"! There aren't many additional details of the show, since he didn't remember much else other than Lovelight, which got the long description. "I remember the last half of the concert very clearly..."

    He did give some more details on Owsley's pre-show behavior:
    "Owsley Augustus Stanley III, keeper of the ohms, was hopping around kicking various pieces of heavy electronic equipment... Owsley was sending various roadies and quippies scurrying after parts and tools and cursing everybody... For a while, it looked like things would never start because Owsley was in charge and things had better be JUST RIGHT for him... THIS WIRE DOES NOT BELONG HERE. Finally, though, Owsley was appeased..."
    Many a Dead show in '69-70 is said to have started late because Owsley had no concept of starting on time and would fiddle endlessly with the equipment!

    The '73 article also includes some comments from Rock Scully on Pigpen, which I'll quote somewhere else.

    Barnes also wrote a brief note in the St Louis Post-Dispatch some time after the show:
    "Several friends have commented that the Grateful Dead thing a few weeks ago at the Fox Theater was the best rock concert ever heard in St Louis. It is hard to argue with them... It is impossible to capture on a record the sheer power generated by the Dead, but their most recent album is the best try yet. It is Live Dead. It includes strong versions of St Stephen and Turn On Your Lovelight, the two songs that really broke things up at the Fox."
    (I wonder if he recognized Dark Star?)